Women In The Church: What Can They Do Or Not Do?Related Media
This article is the affirmation of the pastor and elders of Flagstaff Christian Fellowship, Flagstaff Arizona as related to women's roles in the church. It concludes with the Danvers statement by the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW, Wheaton, Illinois 1988).
February, 1996 (Revised)
The issue of women’s roles in the church is complicated and emotionally charged. These comments are only a brief synopsis of some of the issues. As elders, we affirm the rationale, purposes and affirmations of The Danvers Statement (see below, or go to: http://www.cbmw.org/about/danvers.html). Below are some specific questions and our understanding of how Scripture applies to each. Our goal is to honor God and His Word, while avoiding both a legalistic approach and compromise with the worldly influences threatening to undermine God’s unchanging truth.
1. Can women serve as elders or pastors over men?
The clear biblical answer is, No. See 1 Tim. 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9 (qualifications for elders, which clearly are framed with men in view: “husband of one wife,” “manages his household well,” etc.). Also, 1 Cor. 11:3-16 clearly presents the hierarchy: God, Christ, man, woman, which applies both to the church and the home. Since elders/pastors both teach and exercise authority, 1 Tim. 2:11-15 prohibits women from occupying this office (the reasons given in that text are not culturally determined). There are no NT examples of women elders or pastors serving over men.
2. Can women serve as deacons, especially if their area of service puts them over men?
Clearly, deacons serve under elders. If elders are male, then men are ultimately in authority. 1 Tim. 3:11 is ambiguous: Does it refer to elders’ wives, deacons’ wives, or to women deacons? We can’t be dogmatic, but in light of Rom. 16:1 (Phoebe, a “deacon” [servant] of the church), it seems permissible for women to serve as deacons. It would seem best, generally, to have women deacons in ministries where they are leading other women. If they do serve over men, if questions requiring authority arise, they should be deferred to the elder(s) over the deacon.
3. Can women serve as ushers?
There is no NT reference to such a ministry. The question is, Does ushering involve any exercise of authority? We cannot see how it does, unless it comes to the function of being sergeant-at-arms in dealing with a disruptive person. But clearly, male ushers or other men present would take on that role. Passing the offering plate or communion elements is not exercising any authority. It could be argued that it models male passivity if there are not enough men to fill the job. But aside from that, we see no problem with women helping out.
4. Can women lead the communion service or baptize?
In our thinking, this involves a position of corporate leadership that should be reserved for men when men are present (1 Cor. 11).
5. Can women take the lead in corporate worship services?
We believe it is desirable for men to take the lead in public worship. This pictures the divinely instituted order (1 Cor. 11:3). There are not many examples of women leading in worship in Scripture (not all of the following apply, but are listed for study reference): Exod. 15:20, 21; Judges 5; Ps. 68:11; Luke 2:36-38; Acts 21:9; 1 Cor. 11:5; 14:26, 34; Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16. We encourage women to participate in worship services (testimony, praise, music, etc.) as long as they are not usurping authority or behaving in a domineering manner. We also see no violation of Scripture to have a woman (or women) planning the order of worship as long as she is submissive to male leadership and doesn’t plan anything that violates the biblical emphasis.
Since our worship style requires some musical ability, if there is no man with such ability to provide leadership, we recommend finding a man who can at least lead in vocals and give verbal direction to the overall process, even if he can’t play the instruments. This models male leadership, which seems to be clearly the biblical picture.
6. Can women teach men in situations like Precept, adult Sunday School, Agape Families? Could a woman fill the pulpit for a single Sunday morning? What about women teaching boys in Sunday School?
The biblical intent and standard is clearly male leadership in the church. We recognize that there are exceptional cases, both in Scripture (Deborah, Huldah, etc.) and in church history (women missionaries, visionary leaders like Henrietta Mears, etc.). But exceptions are exceptions, not the rule. God’s plan is for male leadership in the church and home. This includes the role of teaching Scripture when men are present.
In the NT, most of the church meetings took place in homes. Thus there wasn’t a distinction between Sunday morning worship (when the whole body gathered) and Sunday School, Sunday evening, mid-week, home fellowships, etc. Thus, as we would apply the NT emphasis on women not being permitted to teach men (1 Tim. 2:12), it would seem to apply to these situations as well. Can a woman, in a home fellowship or adult S.S. class, share an insight from Scripture the Lord has given her? We don’t see any problem with this. But formally teaching Scripture or doctrine to a class that includes men would seem to violate this text.
Teaching various methods (such as how to witness, do Bible study, teach, counsel, etc.), seems to be a gray area, since often there are pertinent doctrinal issues related to such methods. Also, we should derive our methods from the Bible, so to teach any method properly it’s necessary to teach the Bible, which women are prohibited from doing with men. We would be comfortable with a couple team-teaching some of these things, with the husband taking the lead in explaining doctrinal issues, and the wife contributing her insights into methods or people-skills.
As far as women teaching boys in Sunday School, the problem seems to grow in proportion to the age of the boys. We would prefer men teaching in the older classes (jr. high and up), since it better models masculine spirituality and leadership for our children. Even in the younger ages, it would be good if a couple could work together. Otherwise we send the non-verbal message to kids that religion is for women. So our goal ought to be to encourage men to be involved in teaching our kids at every level.
The Danvers Statement
The "Danvers Statement" summarizes the need for the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) and serves as an overview of our core beliefs. This statement was prepared by several evangelical leaders at a CBMW meeting in Danvers, Massachusetts, in December of 1987. It was first published in final form by the CBMW in Wheaton, Illinois in November of 1988.
We have been moved in our purpose by the following contemporary developments which we observe with deep concern:
- The widespread uncertainty and confusion in our culture regarding the complementary differences between masculinity and femininity;
- The tragic effects of this confusion in unraveling the fabric of marriage woven by God out of the beautiful and diverse strands of manhood and womanhood;
- The increasing promotion given to feminist egalitarianism with accompanying distortions or neglect of the glad harmony portrayed in Scripture between the loving, humble leadership of redeemed husbands and the intelligent, willing support of that leadership by redeemed wives;
- The widespread ambivalence regarding the values of motherhood, vocational homemaking, and the many ministries historically performed by women;
- The growing claims of legitimacy for sexual relationships which have Biblically and historically been considered illicit or perverse, and the increase in pornographic portrayal of human sexuality;
- The upsurge of physical and emotional abuse in the family;
- The emergence of roles for men and women in church leadership that do not conform to Biblical teaching but backfire in the crippling of Biblically faithful witness;
- The increasing prevalence and acceptance of hermeneutical oddities devised to reinterpret apparently plain meanings of Biblical texts;
- The consequent threat to Biblical authority as the clarity of Scripture is jeopardized and the accessibility of its meaning to ordinary people is withdrawn into the restricted realm of technical ingenuity;
- And behind all this the apparent accommodation of some within the church to the spirit of the age at the expense of winsome, radical Biblical authenticity which in the power of the Holy Spirit may reform rather than reflect our ailing culture.
Recognizing our own abiding sinfulness and fallibility, and acknowledging the genuine evangelical standing of many who do not agree with all of our convictions, nevertheless, moved by the preceding observations and by the hope that the noble Biblical vision of sexual complementarity may yet win the mind and heart of Christ's church, we engage to pursue the following purposes:
- To study and set forth the Biblical view of the relationship between men and women, especially in the home and in the church.
- To promote the publication of scholarly and popular materials representing this view.
- To encourage the confidence of lay people to study and understand for themselves the teaching of Scripture, especially on the issue of relationships between men and women.
- To encourage the considered and sensitive application of this Biblical view in the appropriate spheres of life.
- And thereby
- to bring healing to persons and relationships injured by an inadequate grasp of God's will concerning manhood and womanhood,
- to help both men and women realize their full ministry potential through a true understanding and practice of their God-given roles,
- and to promote the spread of the gospel among all peoples by fostering a Biblical wholeness in relationships that will attract a fractured world.
Based on our understanding of Biblical teachings, we affirm the following:
1. Both Adam and Eve were created in God's image, equal before God as persons and distinct in their manhood and womanhood (Gen 1:26-27, 2:18).
2. Distinctions in masculine and feminine roles are ordained by God as part of the created order, and should find an echo in every human heart heart (Gen 2:18, 21-24; 1 Cor 11:7-9; 1 Tim 2:12-14).
3. Adam's headship in marriage was established by God before the Fall, and was not a result of sin (Gen 2:16-18, 21-24, 3:1-13; 1 Cor 11:7-9).
4. The Fall introduced distortions into the relationships between men and women (Gen 3:1-7, 12, 16).
- In the home, the husband's loving, humble headship tends to be replaced by domination or passivity; the wife's intelligent, willing submission tends to be replaced by usurpation or servility.
- In the church, sin inclines men toward a worldly love of power or an abdication of spiritual responsibility, and inclines women to resist limitations on their roles or to neglect the use of their gifts in appropriate ministries.
5. The Old Testament, as well as the New Testament, manifests the equally high value and dignity which God attached to the roles of both men and women (Gen 1:26-27, 2:18; Gal 3:28). Both Old and New Testaments also affirm the principle of male headship in the family and in the covenant community (Gen 2:18; Eph 5:21-33; Col 3:18-19; 1 Tim 2:11-15).
6. Redemption in Christ aims at removing the distortions introduced by the curse.
- In the family, husbands should forsake harsh or selfish leadership and grow in love and care for their wives; wives should forsake resistance to their husbands' authority and grow in willing, joyful submission to their husbands' leadership (Eph 5:21-33; Col 3:18-19; Tit 2:3-5; 1 Pet 3:1-7).
- In the church, redemption in Christ gives men and women an equal share in the blessings of salvation; nevertheless, some governing and teaching roles within the church are restricted to men (Gal 3:28; 1 Cor 11:2-16; 1 Tim 2:11-15).
7. In all of life Christ is the supreme authority and guide for men and women, so that no earthly submission-domestic, religious, or civil-ever implies a mandate to follow a human authority into sin (Dan 3:10-18; Acts 4:19-20, 5:27-29; 1 Pet 3:1-2).
8. In both men and women a heartfelt sense of call to ministry should never be used to set aside Biblical criteria for particular ministries (1 Tim 2:11-15, 3:1-13; Tit 1:5-9). Rather, Biblical teaching should remain the authority for testing our subjective discernment of God's will.
9. With half the world's population outside the reach of indigenous evangelism; with countless other lost people in those societies that have heard the gospel; with the stresses and miseries of sickness, malnutrition, homelessness, illiteracy, ignorance, aging, addiction, crime, incarceration, neuroses, and loneliness, no man or woman who feels a passion from God to make His grace known in word and deed need ever live without a fulfilling ministry for the glory of Christ and the good of this fallen world (1 Cor 12:7-21).
10. We are convinced that a denial or neglect of these principles will lead to increasingly destructive consequences in our families, our churches, and the culture at large.
We grant permission and encourage interested persons to use, reproduce, and distribute the Danvers Statement.
Lesson 1: The Nature and Purpose of John’s Gospel (John 20:30-31)Related Media
February 17, 2013
I’ve often said that the most crucial question that any person needs to answer correctly is the one that Jesus asked His disciples (Matt. 16:15), “Who do you say that I am?” On that occasion, Peter by divine revelation answered (Matt. 16:16), “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
If Jesus is who the Bible portrays Him to be and who He claimed to be—the Christ (Messiah), the Son of the living God—then the only sensible response is to trust Him as your Savior from sin and judgment and to follow Him as your Lord. If He is not who the Bible portrays Him to be, then you’re wasting your time being a Christian, because you’re following a fictional character. “Who do you say that I am?” is the crucial question in life!
The apostle John was perhaps thinking of Peter’s confession when he told us why he wrote his gospel (John 20:30-31): “Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.”
John is not trying to persuade you to believe in some general notions about Jesus, such as, He was a good man, a great teacher, or even a prophet of God. John wants you to believe specifically that Jesus is the Christ—the Jewish Messiah (Anointed One)—who was prophesied of in the Old Testament. And he wants you to believe that Jesus is the Son of God, which means, He is God in human flesh (5:18-29). The pinnacle of faith in John’s gospel is when Thomas sees the risen Jesus and proclaims (20:28), “My Lord and My God!”
John wants us to know that in Jesus, we see the unseen God. In John 1:14, John declares of Jesus, “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.” In 1:18 he adds, “No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.” Or, as Jesus tells Philip (14:9), “Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?”
So John wants his readers to know who Jesus is and to believe in Him as He is. The result of believing in Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God, is that you will have life in His name. By “life,” John means “eternal life.” Since the alternative to eternal life is eternal judgment, it is crucial that you know who Jesus is and that you put your trust in Him as Savior and Lord.
I’m going to use John’s purpose for writing as the framework to give an overview of the book. There are thousands of pages of background information on John, which I encourage you to read if you want more depth and detail. Here, I’m going to limit our study to this statement:
The Gospel of John is a selective, symbolic, eyewitness account of the person and ministry of Jesus, written so that you may believe in Him as the Christ, the Son of God, and thus have life in His name.
There are many different ways to outline John’s gospel, but here is a broad outline that gives the flow of the text:
1. 1:1-18: Prologue: The Son of God, the object of belief: “The Word became flesh and dwelled among us” (1:14).
2. 1:19-12:50: Testimony for belief in the Son of God: “We have found the Messiah” (1:41).
A. 1:19-4:54: Initial belief in the Son of God
B. 5:1-12:50: Subsequent unbelief in the Son of God
3. 13:1-17:26: The teaching of the Son of God for His followers: “He loved them to the end” (13:1).
4. 18:1-19:42: The tragedy of unbelief in the Son of God: “We have no king but Caesar” (19:15).
5. 20:1-31: The triumph of the Son of God: “My Lord and my God!” (20:28).
6. 21:1-25: Epilogue: The restoration of Peter and the role of John: “Tend My sheep” (21:17).
Many authors mention that the Gospel of John is like a pool in which both a child can wade and an elephant can swim. It is both simple and profound. On one level, a child can understand and respond to John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” But on another level, scholars have written articles and even books that grapple with some of the issues in John. So wherever you’re at spiritually there will be something for you in John. If you’ve never investigated who Jesus is or put your trust in Him, John writes for you so that you will believe and have eternal life. If you’re a new Christian, there is much in John to strengthen your faith. And if you’ve been a Christian for many years, there are deep pools for you to dive into.
1. The Gospel of John is a selective account of the person and ministry of Jesus.
Maybe you’ve wondered why we have four gospels rather than one. None of the four are what we would call biographies of Jesus (in the sense of covering all of His life from birth to death), but rather are selective and interpretive accounts of His person and ministry. Matthew, Mark, and Luke are called the synoptic (presenting the same view) gospels, because they have much that is similar, although each has a different slant. Matthew, one of the twelve, wrote primarily to Jews, emphasizing that Jesus Christ is the King of Israel. Mark, the shortest gospel, probably wrote from Rome under Peter’s influence. He emphasizes Jesus as the Son of Man who came to serve and give His life a ransom for many (10:45). Luke (the longest book in the New Testament by volume) was written by a physician and a co-worker with the apostle Paul, who also wrote the Book of Acts. His gospel is aimed at Gentiles and emphasizes Jesus Christ’s humanity.
But John has 93 percent original material in comparison to the synoptics (Edwin Blum, The Bible Knowledge Commentary [Victor Books], ed. by John F. Walvoord & Roy Zuck, 2:269). As we’ve seen (20:30), John acknowledges that there were “many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book.” John ends his gospel by stating (21:25), “And there are also many other things which Jesus did, which if they were written in detail, I suppose that even the world itself would not contain the books that would be written.” So John is selective. Most scholars think that he wrote his gospel sometime in the 80’s or early 90’s A.D., and so he most likely knew about the other gospels and did not feel the need to duplicate what they had written.
John begins in eternity, identifying Jesus as God and Creator (1:1-3). He omits many important things that the other gospels contain. There is no mention of Jesus’ birth, His baptism, or His temptation. There is no list of the twelve disciples. There are no stories of Jesus casting out demons and no parables (except perhaps 10:1-6). John tells us that he saw Jesus’ glory (1:14), but he doesn’t mention the transfiguration, even though he was one of the three eyewitnesses. He includes Jesus’ promise that He is preparing a place for us in heaven and that He will return for us (14:1-3), but he omits Jesus’ lengthy prophetic discourses. John gives us the longest and most detailed account of events in the Upper Room on the night Jesus was betrayed, but he never mentions the Lord’s Supper. He doesn’t tell us about Jesus’ agony in the garden, although from John we learn that it was Peter who whacked off Malchus’ ear. And, although John records the risen Jesus telling Mary to tell the disciples that He will ascend to the Father (20:17), there is no account of Jesus’ ascension.
Some of the features that are unique to John include his direct assertion that Jesus is the eternal God who created all things (1:2, 3). He alone says that Jesus is the only begotten Son of God (3:16, 18). John tells us of the first miracle of turning the water into wine (2:1-11). He alone includes the interviews with Nicodemus and the woman at the well (3 & 4). He tells us of Jesus’ healing the nobleman’s son (4:46-54), the lame man by the pool of Bethesda (5:1-15), and the man born blind (9:1-41). John alone records Jesus’ raising Lazarus from the dead (11:1-44). John tells us of Jesus’ washing the disciples’ feet (13:1-20) and of His teaching in the Upper Room, where He gives the promise of the coming of the Holy Spirit (14-16). John records the longest prayer of Jesus (17). He tells us of Thomas’ doubts (20:24-29) and of the disciples’ encounter with the risen Lord on the beach in Galilee (21). John carefully chose all these events and much more to give us this selective insider’s portrait of our Savior.
2. The Gospel of John is a symbolic account of the person and ministry of Jesus.
John is full of symbolic language that makes you stop and think about the deeper meaning of what he is saying. This does not mean that John bends the historical truth into fiction for the sake of his story. What John reports actually happened (21:24), but there is often a deeper significance behind the historical facts. Rather than referring to Jesus’ “miracles” or “wonders” (terms the other gospel writers use), John calls them “signs,” as we saw in 20:30: “many other signs Jesus also performed.” A sign points to something beyond itself. John wants us to perceive the deeper meaning behind the miracle itself.
Out of hundreds that he could have chosen, John picked seven signs, not counting Jesus’ resurrection and the miraculous post-resurrection catch of fish (21:1-14): (1) Changing the water into wine (2:1-11); (2) Healing the nobleman’s son (4:46-54); (3) Healing the lame man by the Pool of Bethesda (5:1-9); (4) Feeding the 5,000 (6:1-14); (5) Walking on the water (6:16-21); (6) Healing the man born blind (9:1-12); and, (7) Raising Lazarus from the dead (11:1-46).
In at least three of these miracles, we don’t have to guess as to their significance, because Jesus tells us. After He feeds the 5,000, Jesus proclaims (6:35), “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst.” Before opening the eyes of the man born blind, Jesus asserts (8:12), “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.” Before He raised Lazarus from the dead, Jesus told Martha (11:25), “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies.”
By the way, these are three of seven “I am” claims that Jesus makes in John. The others are, “I am the door of the sheep” (10:7); “I am the good shepherd” (10:11, 14); “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me” (14:6); and, “I am the true vine” (15:1, 5). In each case we need to think about the symbolism of what Jesus is saying about Himself and how it relates to us.
John also uses a number of key words that have symbolic significance. John wrote so that you may have life in Jesus’ name (20:31). Life is in Jesus (1:4) and He Himself is the life (11:25; 14:6). Related to that is the concept of the new birth, which Jesus presents to Nicodemus (3:3-7). Physical life is a picture of the spiritual life that Jesus came to give to those who believe in Him. The opposite is that those who do not possess new life in Jesus are spiritually dead. They need Jesus’ resurrection power to receive life.
Another symbolic picture is that of light and darkness. John says (1:4) that the life in Jesus “was the Light of men.” Jesus is “the true Light” (1:9). He is (8:12) “the Light of the world.” But (3:19) “men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil.” Jesus proclaimed (12:46), “I have come as Light into the world, so that everyone who believes in Me will not remain in darkness.” When Judas left the Upper Room to betray Jesus, John was obviously reporting more than the time of day when he adds (13:30), “and it was night.” And yet oddly, John does not mention the three hours of darkness as Jesus hung on the cross (Matt. 27:45; Mark 15:33; Luke 23:44)!
Another key symbolic word is world, which occurs 78 times in John. John 1:10 states, “He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him.” In the first two uses, it refers to the earth and all that is in it, including the people. But in the third instance, it carries the nuance of sinful people who rejected Jesus. These people are under the dominion of Satan, “the ruler of this world” (12:31; 14:30; 16:11). In this sense, the world hates both Jesus and His disciples (7:7; 15:18; 16:20). “World” can also refer to the people of the world in general, as when John states (3:16) that “God so loved the world,” or when the Pharisees express their frustration (12:19), “the world has gone after Him.” Jesus asks the Father (17:15) not to take His followers “out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one,” adding (17:16), “They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.”
There are a number of other key words that John repeats for emphasis to make us think about their significance. John uses witness 14 times as a noun and 33 times as a verb (Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John [Eerdmans], p. 89), while the other gospels combined only use the noun four times and the verb twice. He begins by saying (1:7) that John (the Baptist; this gospel always calls him simply “John”) “came as a witness, to testify about the Light, so that all might believe through him.” (See also, 1:8, 15, 19, 32, 34; 3:26; 5:33.) There are seven witnesses to Jesus Christ in this gospel (Morris, p. 90): (1) the Father; (2) Christ Himself; (3) the Holy Spirit; (4) Jesus’ works; (5) the Scriptures; (6) John the Baptist; and, (7) a variety of human witnesses, such as the disciples, the Samaritan woman, and the multitude. These witnesses establish the truth, another key concept that John hammers on (25 times, over against once in Matthew and 3 times each in Mark and Luke; Morris, 294).
Two further concepts that have significance due to their repetition are that Jesus was sent (33 times referring to Jesus’ mission from God) to this earth by the Father to do His will at the appointed hour (12 times with reference to the cross). He told the disciples (4:34), “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to accomplish His work.” He emphasized to the unbelieving Jews that the Father had sent Him and that His works testified to that fact (5:23, 24, 30, 36, 37, 38). But although these evil men refused to believe in Jesus and finally succeeded in killing Him, John emphasizes that it was all done in accordance with the Father’s sovereign timetable. When the hostile Jews sought to seize Jesus, they could not do so, “because His hour had not yet come” (7:30; 8:20). But as the crucifixion drew near, Jesus proclaimed (12:23), “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.”
If time permitted, I could also comment on other significant words, such as “flesh and spirit,” “love and hate,” and “knowledge and know.” I’ll comment on the key word “believe” in a moment. So John is both selective and symbolic.
3. The Gospel of John is an eyewitness account of the person and ministry of Jesus.
John (20:30) states, “Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples….” John himself was an eyewitness to these events that he reports, plus many others whom John knew. This establishes the truth of these events. It’s not surprising that liberals dispute that John wrote John, just as they dispute that Paul wrote many of his epistles. J. Vernon McGee (John [Thru the Bible Books], pp. 5-6) in his humorous manner says that he took a class in seminary on the authorship of John. The professor finally concluded the course by saying that he thought John was the author. A wag in the class said, “Well, I believed John wrote it before I started the class and I believe it now; so I just wasted the semester!”
You can read many pages of arguments on the issue, which I don’t have time to recount here. Suffice it to say that there is credible internal and external evidence that John the apostle wrote the Gospel of John. The internal evidence refers to the many indicators in the book itself that it was written by an eyewitness and that the eyewitness was John, who refers to himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (21:20, 24). The external evidence refers to the early church fathers, such as Irenaeus, Tertullian, and Clement of Alexandria, who attest that John wrote this gospel. Irenaeus said that in his early days he used to sit in Polycarp’s house and listen to him tell about his talks with John and others who had seen the Lord. So when Irenaeus declares categorically that after the other Gospels were written, John also wrote his while living in Ephesus, it’s pretty solid evidence that John wrote John (Everett Harrison, Introduction to the New Testament [Eerdmans], pp. 207-208). Finally,
4. The Gospel of John is written so that you may believe in Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God, and thus have life in His name.
John wants you to believe, not in generalities, but in specific, true content: that Jesus is the Messiah and the Son of God so that you will have eternal life in all that He is (His “name”). But John makes it clear that the proper response to the truth about Jesus is not automatic. In spite of the strong evidence, people divide over Jesus. Even after He raised Lazarus from the dead, many believed, but others went away to the Pharisees to report on what Jesus had done, with the result that they increased their efforts to kill Him (11:45-53). The raising of Lazarus clearly proved that Jesus is the resurrection and the life, but that didn’t stop the Pharisees from wanting to kill Him! Sin is not rational!
John uses the verb, believe, 98 times, but strangely he never uses the noun. For John, faith must have content that is true. You must believe certain truths about Jesus. But faith is also personal commitment to the person of Jesus Christ, where you enter into a relationship with Him. To believe in Jesus is to trust Him as your Savior and Lord and walk in obedience to His commands. As we’ll see, it’s possible to have a superficial belief in Jesus that does not result in eternal life (2:23-25; 8:31-59).
For John belief in Jesus is both initial and ongoing as a person learns more about who Jesus is. The disciples initially believed in Jesus when they first met Him, based on the testimony of John the Baptist (1:7, 49-50). But they also believed when they saw Jesus perform His first miracle, turning the water into wine (2:11). But they (11:15; see, also, 13:19; 14:1, 10, 11, 29; 16:27, 30-31) and Martha (11:27, 40) still needed to believe before they saw Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead. Yet John reports that when he went into the empty tomb and saw Jesus’ grave clothes, he believed (20:8). Obviously, Thomas had believed in Jesus before the resurrection, but his faith was shaken by the crucifixion. He had to see the risen Savior so that he would not “be unbelieving, but believing” (20:27).
So the first crucial question is, “Who do you say that Jesus is?” After you’ve answered it, the second crucial question is, “Have you believed in Him so that you have eternal life?” If not, why not? If so, you still need to believe further in Him as you get to know more of who He is. Ask God to reveal more of Jesus to your heart as we study the Gospel of John.
- Some skeptics say that if they saw a miracle, they would believe. Yet some saw Jesus raise Lazarus and still did not believe. How do you explain this? How would you respond to the skeptic?
- Postmodernists undermine the notion that there is absolute truth and that we can know it. How would you counter this? Why is it important to counter it?
- Why is the true identity of Jesus “the crucial question”? What implications flow from this question?
- How can a person know that he/she has eternal life? Use Scripture to frame your answer.
Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2013, All Rights Reserved.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation
Lesson 2: Jesus: Revealer of God (John 1:1-5)Related Media
February 24, 2013
In the movie, Ben Hur, Ben Hur had been imprisoned by the Romans and was being taken to a galley ship where he would be forced to row. He was tired and thirsty and had dropped to the ground from exhaustion. He cried out, “God, help me!”
At that moment Jesus (the film never showed His face, but only His back) reached down to give him a drink. When the Roman soldier in charge saw this, he yelled at Jesus to leave the man alone and raised his whip. Jesus turned and looked at the soldier, who stood there immobilized in awe as he looked at Jesus’ face (which the camera did not show). He lowered his whip and turned away. The effect that the film wanted to convey is that an encounter with Jesus Christ would stun and perhaps even soften the hardest of men.
John begins his Gospel by stunning us with his description of Jesus Christ. He never mentions Jesus’ name until verse 17, but it becomes clear right away that he is talking about Jesus. Rather than beginning with the story of His birth, John confronts us with His deity in eternity. Moses begins Genesis (1:1) by confronting us with the majesty of God, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” In the same way, John 1:1 confronts us with the majesty of Jesus Christ, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” John wants us to stand in awe of Jesus as God and as the One who reveals the unseen God to us, just as a word reveals an unseen thought.
It is foundational to the Christian faith and crucial to your personal faith that you understand and embrace the truth that Jesus Christ is fully God. Bishop Moule once stated (source unknown), “A Savior not quite God is a bridge broken at the farther end.” John Mitchell put it (An Everlasting Love [Multnomah Press], pp. 13, 14), “If Jesus is not God, then we are sinners without a Savior…. If Jesus were only a man, then He died for His own sins. And we are still in our sins. We have no hope.” In order to reconcile sinful people to the holy God, Jesus must be God in human flesh. John skillfully presents this in the prologue (1:1-18) of his Gospel. Colin Kruse (John [IVP Academic], pp. 59-60) points out:
The Prologue … introduces the main themes that are to appear throughout the Gospel: Jesus’ pre-existence (1:1a/ 17:5), Jesus’ union with God (1:1c/8:58; 10:30; 20:28), the coming of life in Jesus (1:4a/5:26; 6:33; 10:10; 11:25-26; 14:6), the coming of light in Jesus (1:4b, 9/3:19; 8:12; 12:46), the conflict between light and darkness (1:5/ 3:19; 8:12; 12:35, 46), believing in Jesus (1:7, 12/2:11; 3:16, 18, 36; 5:24; 6:69; 11:25; 14:1; 16:27; 17:21; 20:25), the rejection of Jesus (1:10c, 11/4:44; 7:1; 8:59; 10:31; 12:37-40; 15:18), divine regeneration (1:13/3:1-7), the glory of Jesus (1:14/12:41; 17:5, 22, 24), the grace and truth of God in Jesus (1:14, 17/4:24; 8:32; 14:6; 17:17; 18:38), Jesus and Moses/the law (1:17/1:45; 3:14; 5:46; 6:32; 7:19; 9:29), only Jesus has seen God (1:18/6:46), and Jesus’ revelation of the Father (1:18/3:34; 8:19, 38; 12:49-50; 14:6-11; 17:8).
Kruse compares the Prologue in John to a foyer in a theater, where you can see various scenes from the drama that you are about to see inside. Kruse and several other writers point out a chiastic structure in the prologue, with the center of it on verses 12 & 13, which is the central theme of John, that when we believe in Jesus we are born of God and become children of God. But today we have to limit ourselves to 1:1-5, where John shows us that…
Jesus Christ is the eternal Word, the Creator of everything, who reveals the life and light of God to this dark world.
We cannot know God, who (1 Tim. 6:16) “dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see,” unless He chooses to reveal Himself to us. John’s point is that God has revealed Himself to us in the person of Jesus Christ.
1. Jesus is the eternal Word of God (1:1-2).
John 1:1-2: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.” We need to be clear on what John is affirming here, because it is foundational for the Christian faith. Four things:
A. Jesus is eternal.
“In the beginning,” as I said, takes us back to Genesis 1:1, when God created the heavens and the earth. The verb “was” indicates that at the beginning of the universe, the Word already was in existence. John wants us to see that he is writing about a new creation that centers in the eternal Word, who is also the Creator of all things (1:3). Both statements (Gen. 1:1 & John 1:1) don’t let you debate the question, “Does God exist?” They don’t ask for your opinion, “What do you think about it.” Rather, before you have time to duck, they hit you right between the eyes: “In the beginning, God….” “In the beginning was the Word…” John means that there never was a time when the Word was not.
Whenever Scripture makes such a bold declaration of Jesus’ deity, you can be sure that the enemy will attack it. Virtually all heresies down through history to the present deny either the full deity or the true humanity of Jesus Christ. The heretic Arius and his modern disciples, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, argue that Jesus was not eternal; rather, He was the first created being. The Jehovah’s Witnesses base this in part on Paul’s statement (Col. 1:15), “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.” But if they would read the very next verse, Paul explains what he means by “the firstborn” (1:16-17): “For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether throne or dominions 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.” If all things have been created through Him, then clearly He is not created. He is eternal.
In our text, John emphasizes the same thing (1:3), “apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.” Obviously, if Jesus is a created being, then He came into being and verse 3 is false. But John denies this and asserts that everything that had a beginning (that came into being) came into being through Jesus. He is eternal. There never was a time when the Word was not in existence. Jesus is eternal God!
B. Jesus is the second person of the Trinity.
John continues, “and the Word was with God.” Leon Morris (The Gospel According to John [Eerdmans, 1971], p. 76) explains the preposition (“with”): “The whole existence of the Word was oriented towards the Father. Probably we should understand from the preposition the two ideas of accompaniment and relationship…. Not only did the Word exist ‘in the beginning,’ but He existed in the closest possible connection with the Father.” This shows that the Word is not an impersonal idea or philosophy, but a Person. This Person is distinguishable from God, although (as the first and third phrases of 1:1 show), He is eternal God.
In verse 2, John repeats the first two phrases of verse 1, both for emphasis and to make sure that we understand what he is saying. The Word was in the beginning with God. While the Word is God (1:1c), the Word is distinct from God.
Although our finite minds cannot comprehend the mystery of the Trinity, Scripture is clear that God is one God who exists in three distinct persons. Each person is fully God and yet He is not three Gods, but one God (see Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology [Zondervan, 1994], pp. 226-258).
C. Jesus is God.
The third phrase is, “and the Word was God.” As Morris states (p. 76), “Nothing higher could be said. All that may be said about God may fitly be said about the Word. This statement should not be watered down.” He clarifies (p. 77), “John is not merely saying that there is something divine about Jesus. He is affirming that He is God, and doing so emphatically as we see from the word order in the Greek.”
If you’ve had an encounter with the Jehovah’s Witnesses, you know that they claim that the Greek text (and their New World Translation says, “the word was a god,” because there is no Greek definite article before “God.” How should you answer their claim?
First, this is the only way in Greek to say, “the Word was God.” If John had put the definite article before God, it would have equated the Word totally with God, thus negating the distinction between the Word and God that he made in the second phrase. It would not have allowed for the Father and the Holy Spirit to be God (another serious heresy).
Second, you could say, “While neither of us understands the technicalities of Greek grammar well enough to discuss the matter intelligently, knowledgeable Greek scholars point out the inconsistency of the New World Translation and they affirm the translation as it appears in every literal modern translation.” (See Daniel Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics [Zondervan], pp. 266-269.) Wallace (p. 269) argues that the Greek construction here emphasizes the qualitative aspect of the Word, which means that He had all the attributes, qualities and essence of the Father, though they differed in person. He states (ibid., italics and bold type his), “The construction the evangelist chose to express this idea was the most concise way he could have stated that the Word was God and yet was distinct from the Father.”
Third, there are many other Scriptures that clearly proclaim Jesus as God, even within John’s Gospel. In John 5:18, the Jews sought to kill Jesus because He was making Himself equal with God. In response, Jesus doesn’t correct them by saying, “I didn’t mean to imply that I’m God!” Rather, He claims (5:22b-23a) that the Father “has given all judgment to the Son, so that all will honor the Son even as they honor the Father.” That’s a bold claim to deity! When, at the climax of John’s gospel (20:28), Thomas sees the risen Jesus, he proclaims, “My Lord and my God!” He was not making an exclamation, as the Jehovah’s Witnesses claim, which would have used God’s name in vain. Surely, Jesus would have rebuked him. Instead, Jesus affirmed Thomas’ confession. (Also, see John 8:58; 10:30; 14:9.)
Years later, on the Isle of Patmos, the apostle John had a vision of the risen Lord (Rev. 1:17-18). John fell before Him as a dead man. Jesus said, “Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades.” Isaiah 44:6 says, “Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts: ‘I am the first and I am the last, and there is no God besides Me.’” In light of Isaiah, clearly Jesus was claiming to be the Lord of hosts, the only living and true God! C. K. Barrett (cited by Kruse, p. 59) comments on John 1:1, “John intends that the whole of his Gospel shall be read in the light of this verse. The deeds and words of Jesus are the deeds and words of God; if this be not true the book is blasphemous.”
Thus verse 1 affirms, Jesus is eternal; He is the second person of the Trinity; and, He is God. Also, it affirms that…
D. Jesus is the Word.
John 1:14 clearly makes this identification: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
Many pages have been written on the possible links between John’s concept of “the Word” in relation to how it was used in Greek philosophy. They viewed the “logos” as the rational mind that ruled the universe. The problem is, we can’t really know to what extent John may or may not have had the Greek concepts in mind when he called Jesus “the Word.” Perhaps John, aware of the Greek ideas, used this term to show them the true meaning of the “logos.”
But I think the clear link in John 1 with Genesis 1 primarily roots his meaning of “logos” in the Old Testament (Andreas Kostenberger, John [Baker], p. 27). Genesis 1 repeatedly states, “and God said ….” Psalm 33:6 states, “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made….” Verse 9 repeats, “For He spoke, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast.” Psalm 107:20 declares, “He sent His word and healed them ….” God’s word accomplishes the purpose for which He sends it forth (Isa. 55:11). There is creative power in the word of God and Jesus is that Word. So when John calls Jesus “the Word,” he means that God has spoken to us and revealed Himself to us in the person of Jesus Christ, the eternal Creator of all things. Also, consider these two things:
(1). As the Word, Jesus reveals what the invisible God is like.
You cannot know my thoughts unless I put them into words. God is spirit, and thus invisible to our finite senses (1 Tim. 6:16). John (1:18) says, “No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God [some manuscripts read, “Son”] who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.” Jesus Himself asserted (John 14:9), “He who has seen Me has seen the Father.” Thus it is only through Jesus that we can know God personally (Luke 10:22).
(2). As the Word, Jesus shows our responsibility towards God.
Hebrews 1:1-2 asserts, “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world.” If God has spoken to us through Jesus, His Word, then we had better listen to and obey Jesus! John 3:36 draws the line, “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” To ignore God’s word to us in Jesus is a serious mistake! Jesus is the eternal God, the authoritative Word of God. Ignore Him to your eternal peril! Thus in verses 1 & 2, John asserts that Jesus is the eternal Word of God, distinct from the Father and yet equally God with the Father. The Father has spoken to us in Jesus Christ.
2. Jesus is the creator of all things that exist (1:3).
John 1:3: “All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.” I’ve already pointed out that if everything that has come into being came into being through Jesus, then clearly Jesus never came into being. He has existed eternally.
The Bible teaches that all three members of the Trinity were involved in creation. God the Father created everything, but He did it through Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 8:6; Col. 1:16-17; Heb. 1:1-3). Also, the Spirit of God participated in creation (Gen. 1:2). God’s statement (Gen. 1:26), “Let Us make man in Our image” implies the involvement of the trinity in the creation of human beings.
As with the person of Christ, it is not just a coincidence that Satan has so strongly attacked the biblical doctrine of creation. If God created everything that exists out of nothing by the word of His power, then contrary to what atheists claim, matter is not eternal. Only God is eternal. Creation also points to the amazing power and intelligence of God. It shows us that we are finite, limited creatures and thus we must submit to God and depend on Him. In other words, if Jesus is the creator, then He is God, which means, I am not God! And that is a fundamental lesson in all of life!
3. Jesus is the author of life, which should point all people toward Him (1:4).
John 1:4: “In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men.” John uses “life” 36 times in his Gospel, more than any other New Testament book. D. A. Carson (The Gospel According to John [Eerdmans/Apollos], p. 119) argues that in light of verses 1-3, “the life inhering in the Word is related not to salvation but to creation.” The next phrase, “the life was the Light of men,” then either points to the fact of man being created in the image of God or to the way in which God’s invisible attributes, eternal power and divine nature are revealed in creation (Rom. 1:20). But since John goes on to develop the truth that Jesus came to earth to bring spiritual life to those who are dead in their sins and spiritual light to those who live in darkness, verse 4 may have a dual meaning, pointing back to creation, but also ahead to the salvation Jesus brings.
So the application is, those who are spiritually dead in their sins need life and Jesus is the source of that life. They are spiritually in darkness, but when they are born again, the light goes on. As Paul puts it (2 Cor. 4:4, 6), referring to those who are perishing, “in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God…. For God, who said, ‘Light shall shine out of darkness,’ is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” Finally,
4. Jesus is the only source of true light in this spiritually dark world (1:5).
John 1:5, “The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.” The word translated “comprehend” can have two meanings, much like our word “grasp.” It can mean to comprehend or grasp mentally, or it can mean to overcome or take hold of something in the sense of mastering it physically. If it refers to creation, then John’s meaning is that when God said, “Let there be light,” it overcame the darkness. If you turn on a light in a dark room, the darkness loses and the light prevails. But John uses the present tense here, which probably focuses on Jesus’ coming to earth and the conflict between Him and the powers of darkness that unfold in this Gospel. They crucified Him, but He arose and conquered the darkness. His salvation conquers the spiritual darkness in every heart that trusts in Him.
But the word may also be translated “comprehend,” and this meaning also fits a theme in this Gospel. In 1:10b, those in the world “did not know Him.” In 1:11b, even His own people “did not receive Him.” Jesus points out (3:19-20) that those in the darkness love the darkness and hate the Light because their deeds are evil. Thus they didn’t “comprehend” Jesus. Because sinners walk in darkness (8:12), they fail to see who Jesus really is. In John 8:48, they actually accuse Him of having a demon! So perhaps John’s use of this ambiguous term has both meanings: the darkness will not overcome the Light as it comes through Jesus. Also, the darkness cannot comprehend the Light, unless Jesus opens their blind eyes to see.
So John’s point in this opening stunning description of Jesus Christ is to tell us that He is the eternal Word, the Creator of everything, and that He reveals the life and light of God to this dark world. Have you ever been stunned like that soldier in Ben Hur because God opened your eyes to see who Jesus really is? Because He is the eternal God, we should believe in Him and submit everything in our lives to Him as the Sovereign Lord. Because He is the Creator, we should worship Him as we see His handiwork in what He has made. If His life is in us, our salvation is secure. Because He is our life, we should be filled with hope because we will spend eternity with Him. Because He is our light, we should let Him shine into every decision we make and into every area of our lives. To know God, look to Jesus, the eternal Word of God!
- Why is the deity of Jesus Christ foundational to Christianity? Can a person who denies His deity be truly saved?
- An early heresy (modalism) taught that God revealed Himself as the Father in the Old Testament, as the Son in the New Testament, and as the Holy Spirit after Pentecost. Why is this wrong? How does John 1:1-2 refute it?
- Outside of the Gospel of John, what texts most strongly prove the deity of Jesus? Which texts do the cults use to try to disprove it? How would you answer them?
- What are some practical benefits of Jesus being our life and light? How do these truths apply to our daily lives?
Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2013, All Rights Reserved.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation
Lesson 3: God’s Witness, Your Verdict (John 1:6-13)Related Media
March 3, 2013
The evening news has recently been carrying the story of two courtroom dramas. The first, in Phoenix, is the story of a young woman who killed her lover and claims that she acted in self-defense. The other is the story of the Olympic “blade runner” in South Africa who shot his glamorous girlfriend but claims that he thought she was an intruder in his apartment. In both of those stories, it is very difficult to get to the truth, because there were no eyewitnesses to the killings. The defense can bring in witnesses to testify to basic “good character” of the killers, while the prosecution brings in witnesses to undermine their character. But without any credible witnesses of the killings, the juries are going to have a difficult time deciding the truth.
But what if the case had one witness who was actually sent by God in fulfillment of prophecies written hundreds of years before he arrived on the scene? The other witness, who is the one on trial, shines with a light that is brighter and purer than any other person who has ever lived? With these two exceptional, truthful witnesses, it shouldn’t be very hard to come to a verdict. But when you go into the jury room to deliberate, you are stunned that quite a few reject the testimony of these two sterling witnesses.
That’s the scene that John paints for us in our text. He has already (1:1-5) given us a description of Jesus Christ as the eternal Word, the second member of the trinity, and the creator of all that is. He has said that in Jesus is life and that life was the light of men. But even though that Light shines in the darkness, the darkness did not comprehend (or overpower) it (1:5). This implies the conflict between light and darkness that unfolds in this drama. In chapters 1-4, there is initially belief in Jesus, but in chapters 5-12, there is subsequent unbelief, leading up to His mock trial and crucifixion.
In our text, John introduces the witness of John the Baptist to Jesus (1:6-8) and the witness of Jesus Himself, “the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man” (1:9). There is more than adequate testimony in Jesus’ favor. But what will the jury decide? While as I said, this plays out throughout the entire story, John shows here that many who should have decided favorably sadly rejected the witness to Jesus Christ, whereas others welcomed the witness by receiving and believing in Him. But John isn’t just reporting a courtroom drama for your entertainment. He wants to draw you into the story and elicit your personal verdict on the witness to Jesus Christ:
God’s witness to His Son, the true Light, demands your verdict of faith in Him.
Our text falls into two parts: In 1:6-9, John shows that God has given adequate witness to His Son. In 1:10-13, he shows that this witness to God’s Son demands a verdict of faith in Him. But in spite of the solid evidence, that verdict isn’t guaranteed. Many of those who should have decided in favor of Jesus did not know Him or receive Him. But those who did are born of God and become His children.
1. God has given adequate witness to His Son (1:6-9).
The point of witnesses in a courtroom is to establish the truth beyond a reasonable doubt. As I pointed out in our first study of John, he marshals at least seven witnesses to Jesus Christ (Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John [Eerdmans], p. 90): (1) the Father; (2) Christ Himself; (3) the Holy Spirit; (4) Jesus’ works; (5) the Scriptures; (6) John the Baptist; and, (7) a variety of human witnesses, such as the disciples, the Samaritan woman, and the multitude. In our text, we see two of the witnesses: John the Baptist (1:6-8) and Christ Himself (1:9).
A. God sent John the Baptist to witness to the Light so that all might believe through him (1:6-8).
John 1:6-8: “There came a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to testify about the Light, so that all might believe through him. He was not the Light, but he came to testify about the Light.”
John the Baptist is the only person in human history of whom it is said that he was filled with the Holy Spirit while still in his mother’s womb (Luke 1:41). His birth itself was miraculous, in that his aged parents had previously been unable to conceive. God sent John in fulfillment of Isaiah 40:3, “A voice is calling, ‘Clear the way for the Lord in the wilderness; make smooth in the desert a highway for our God.’” Also, in Malachi 3:1a, God said, “‘Behold, I am going to send My messenger, and he will clear the way before Me.”
John’s purpose was clear (John 1:7): “He came as a witness, to testify about the Light, so that all might believe through him.” (“Through him” refers to John.) Verse 8 clarifies that John himself was not the Light and repeats that his role was to testify about the Light. John may have simply added this to make it crystal clear, or it could be that there were still some in Ephesus in John’s day similar to those whom Paul found there, who held to the baptism of John, but had not believed in Jesus (Acts 19:1-7).
C. H. Dodd (cited by James Boice, The Gospel of John [Zondervan], one-volume ed., p. 49) observes that the apostle John’s three points in 1:6-8 outline the development of the rest of the chapter. First, John the Baptist is not the light (developed in 1:19-28). Second, John was sent to bear witness to the light (1:29-34). Third, John’s aim was that all may believe through him (1:35-51).
Those three points are helpful to keep in mind whenever you have an opportunity to bear witness of Christ. First, the message is not about you. It’s fine to give your testimony, but keep the focus on Christ. Second, tell people who Jesus is. John testified that Jesus is the Lord (1:23). John said that he wasn’t worthy to untie the thong of Jesus’ sandal (1:27). He said of Jesus (1:29), “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” He said that Jesus was of higher rank than he (John) because He existed before John, even though John was older than Jesus (1:30). He testified that he saw the Spirit of God descending on Jesus as a dove out of heaven (1:32). He said (1:34), “I myself have seen, and have testified that this is the Son of God.” He said (3:30), “He must increase, but I must decrease.” Tell people who Jesus is. Third, seek to bring people to faith in Jesus. Don’t just have a nice discussion and leave it at that. Encourage people to put their trust in Jesus Christ for salvation before it is too late.
B. As the true Light, Jesus Himself witnesses to who He is (1:9).
John 1:9: “There was the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man.” “True” here means genuine as opposed to counterfeit. D. A. Carson (The Gospel According to John [Eerdmans/Apollos], p. 122, italics his) explains, “Johns point is that the Word who came into the world is the light, the true light, the genuine and ultimate self-disclosure of God to man.”
But we need to sort out a couple of interpretive matters in 1:9. First, does “coming into the world” modify “man,” as in the New King James, “That was the true Light which gives light to every man who comes into the world”? Or, (as with the NASB, ESV, CSB, and NIV) does it refer to the Light coming into the world? Grammatically, it could refer to either. But in this gospel, coming into the world or being sent into the world is repeatedly said with reference to Jesus (6:14; 11:27; 16:28; 18:37). And, the following verses (1:10-11) talk about Jesus being in the world and coming unto His own. So the best way to take it is that Jesus, the Light, comes into the world and enlightens every man.
That’s the other question: How does Jesus’ coming into the world enlighten every man? There are several views. (1) Some argue that this refers to the light of general revelation that God gives through creation (Rom. 1:20). Included in this may be the light of conscience that bears witness of God (Calvin’s view; Rom. 2:14-16). (2) The Quakers say that this refers to an “inner light” that God gives to all people. (3) Some (Augustine) say that “every man” only refers to those who have been born again. (4) Others say that it means that Jesus would “give the light of truth to all whom his ministry would affect, whether in greater or lesser degree” (Merrill Tenney, Expositor’s Bible Commentary [Zondervan], ed. by Frank Gaebelein, 9:31; also, Colin Kruse, John [IVP Academic], p. 67). (5) Wesleyans argue that this verse teaches that God has given all people “prevenient grace,” which gives them to ability to choose or reject salvation. But that view contradicts the many verses that declare fallen man’s inability to choose God (Luke 10:22; John 8:43; Rom. 3:10-18; 8:7-8; 9:16; 1 Cor. 2:14; 2 Cor. 4:4; see Thomas Schreiner, Still Sovereign [Baker], ed. by Thomas Schreiner & Bruce Ware, pp. 229-246).
The best view is that John 1:9 refers to the exposure that light brings when it shines on something. The Greek verb means to shed light upon or to make visible. This isn’t referring to inner illumination, but to the objective revelation or light that came into the world through the incarnation (Carson, p. 124; Schreiner, p. 240). Carson explains (ibid.),
It shines on every man, and divides the race: those who hate the light respond as the world does (1:10): they flee lest their deeds should be exposed by this light (3:19-21). But some receive this revelation (1:12-13), and thereby testify that their deeds have been done through God (3:21). In John’s Gospel it is repeatedly the case that the light shines on all, and forces a distinction (e.g. 3:19-21; 8:12; 9:39-41).
John’s point here is that the witness that comes from the Light (Jesus) demands a response. When the Light exposes the corruption and sin that’s in everyone’s heart, some will react like cockroaches when the light is flipped on: they run for cover to hide their evil deeds. But others welcome the light, knowing that it’s for their healing and good. John goes on to show these opposite responses in 1:10-13):
2. The witness that God has given regarding His Son demands a verdict (1:10-13).
First, John shows the wrong verdict:
A. Some reject God’s witness regarding the true Light (1:10-11).
John 1:10-11: “He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him.” These verses show the tragedy of sin and the terrible wickedness of the human heart. Sin is utterly irrational. If God loves sinners enough to send His own Son to pay for their sin and offer them eternal life as a free gift, it’s insane for them to scream, “Get out of here! Turn off that light! I love my sin so much that I’m willing to face eternal judgment rather than to receive the right to become God’s child!”
First (1:10) John says, “He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him.” As I said in the introductory message, “world” is a key concept in John. He uses it 78 times, often with reference to the evil system that is under Satan, “the ruler of this world” (12:31; 14:30; 16:11). It is hostile both toward Jesus and His followers (7:7; 15:18; 16:20). John heightens the irony here by noting again (as in 1:3) that Jesus made the world and yet, “the world did not know Him.”
Knowing Jesus (or not knowing Him) is another major theme in John. When the Samaritans believe in Jesus through the witness of the woman at the well, they say to her (4:42), “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves and know that this One is indeed the Savior of the world.” In like fashion, Peter testifies (6:69), “We have believed and have come to know that You are the Holy One of God.” But in 8:19, Jesus says to the hostile Jews, “You know neither Me nor My Father; if you knew Me, you would know My Father also.”
Why didn’t the world know its Creator and Savior? One reason is that it is spiritually blind (John 9:39-41; 2 Cor. 4:4). Another reason is that they love their sin (“darkness,” 3:19-21). In many cases, the cause is just indifference. People are immersed in their own things and don’t have the time or desire to know Jesus in a personal, saving way.
Then John heightens the irony of the world not knowing Jesus (1:11): “He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him.” There is a word play in Greek: the first “His own” is neuter and refers to “His own property or home.” The second “His own” is masculine and refers to His fellow Jews, the people of Israel. The two phrases both may refer to Israel, with the first emphasizing that Israel belongs to the Lord as His inheritance (Ps. 78:71), and the second emphasizing that they were His own kinsmen. They should have recognized Jesus as their promised Messiah, prophesied of in their Scriptures. But He wasn’t the kind of Messiah that they envisioned or wanted. They were hoping for a political Messiah who would deliver them from Rome’s power and provide peace and prosperity. They didn’t see their need for a Savior from sin. And so they rejected the true Light who made them and who rightfully owned them.
There are two applications for us: First, make sure that you’re not rejecting the true Light in spite of the solid testimony that He is the eternal Word in human flesh. It’s easy to be disappointed with Jesus because He didn’t give you quick relief from all your problems. It’s a short step from there to turning your back on Him altogether. Second, don’t be surprised when people do not respond positively to your witness for Christ. People still love the darkness because their deeds are evil. But, not all reject Him:
B. Others receive God’s witness to Jesus by believing in His name (1:12-13).
John 1:12-13: “ But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even 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.” These verses state the purpose for which this Gospel was written and thus form an inclusio (like “bookends”) with 20:30-31. They also strike the balance between human responsibility (we must receive Christ by believing in His name) and divine sovereignty (those who believe in Him were not born of human decision, but of God).
(1). Those who receive Christ and believe in His name become children of God (1:12).
To receive Christ is the opposite of not knowing Him and rejecting Him (1:10-11). It means to welcome Him into your life. John further defines it as believing in His name. “His name” refers to all that Jesus is in His person as the eternal Word made flesh. It refers to all that He did by dying on the cross as the substitute for your sins. Believing in His name means that you stop relying on your own merits and works as the way to approach God and instead you rely totally on what Jesus did for you on the cross. It means that when you stand before God, your only hope for heaven is not your good works, but rather that Jesus died for your sins and you are trusting in Him alone.
Often when you share the gospel with people from a Roman Catholic background, they will tell you that they have received Christ, because they think that they are receiving Christ when they eat the communion wafer. But when you question them on why God should let them into heaven, they will say that they have gone to Mass and confession, they have lived a good life, etc. So you need to make it clear to them that receiving Christ means to rely on Him totally as the payment for their sins. Taking communion or going to mass or doing penance can never qualify us for heaven.
John says that when we receive Christ or believe in Him, He gives us the right or authority to become children of God. The “right” means a legitimate claim, much like a birth certificate proves that you are the child of your natural father. The fact that those who believe “become children of God” means that all people are not God’s children by natural birth. To become God’s child requires a spiritual new birth (1:13; 3:1-8).
Maybe you’ve daydreamed about what it would be like to be the child of a wealthy family, where you could have everything you ever wanted. Or maybe you never had parents who loved you and you wish that you could have been born into a family where you were loved and cared for. We get all of that and more as God’s children! In 1 John 3:1, the apostle exclaims, “See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are. For this reason the world does not know us, because it did not know Him.” What a wonderful privilege!
(2). Those who believe in Jesus were born of God, not from human power or will (1:13).
Verse 13 describes those in verse 12 who believe in Jesus and become His children. They were born, but it was not a natural birth. “Blood” (lit., “bloods”) refers to human ancestry. “The will of the flesh” refers to the decision of human parents to have a child. “The will of man” refers to human willpower. John probably piles up these phrases to counter the Jewish pride of race (Morris, p. 101). Ed Blum explains (The Bible Knowledge Commentary: New Testament [Victor Books], ed. by John F. Walvoord & Roy Zuck, p. 272), ““The birth of a child of God is not a natural birth; it is a supernatural work of God in regeneration. A person welcomes Jesus and responds in faith and obedience to Him, but the mysterious work of the Holy Spirit is ‘the cause’ of regeneration (3:5-8).” Just as we had nothing to do with our physical birth, so we had nothing to do with our spiritual birth. We can’t take credit for it. We can’t boast in our wise decision to believe in Christ. All glory must go to God.
The question comes up, “Do we first believe and then are born again, or are we born again and then believe?” They both happen at the same instant, and so it’s a question of logical, not chronological, order. The clearest verse for answering the question is 1 John 5:1, which is literally translated, “Whoever believes [present tense] that Jesus is the Christ has been born [perfect tense] of God.” In other words, believing in Christ is evidence that God has given you new life through the new birth. John Stott comments on that verse and its verb tenses (The Epistles of John [Eerdmans], p. 172), “It shows clearly that believing is the consequence, not the cause, of the new birth. Our present, continuing activity of believing is the result, and therefore the evidence, of our past experience of new birth by which we became and remain God’s children.”
There is a mystery here that we can’t fully resolve. Suffice it to say that your responsibility is to believe in Christ for salvation and to urge others to believe in Christ. But whenever we believe in Christ, we can’t take credit for our faith or our wise decision. All we can say is, “If God had not graciously chosen me and imparted new life to me, I would still be in my sin. All glory goes to Him!” (See 1 Cor. 1:26-31; Eph. 2:1-10; Acts 13:48.)
So now you’ve heard the witnesses. John has testified that Jesus is the Light. Jesus Himself shines as the true Light. It’s time for your verdict. Will you ignore Him as you pursue your own agenda? Will you flat out reject Him because He confronts your pride? Or, will you receive Him by believing in His name so that you become His child, born of God?
- Many think that saving faith is a leap in the dark. Why is this incorrect? If faith is based on solid witness or truth, then how is it faith?
- Some argue that if fallen sinners are not able to believe, then God can’t hold them responsible to believe. Is this valid? Give biblical support for your answer.
- What are some common reasons (excuses) that people give for rejecting Christ? How can these be countered?
- You are witnessing to a Catholic who insists that he believes in Christ and has received Him many times (at Mass), but you sense that he really isn’t saved. How would you respond?
Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2013, All Rights Reserved.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation
Lesson 4: The Word Became Flesh (John 1:14)Related Media
March 10, 2013
I spent the summer of 1970 working as “Charlie Chaplin” at the Movieland Wax Museum in Buena Park, California. Each day I would dress up as Charlie Chaplin, and impersonate him for the guests. It was the most fun job that I’ve ever had.
The museum also employed several security men who were dressed as Keystone Cops. One of these men was a roly-poly man named Walter. One day Walter in his Keystone Cop outfit and I in my Charlie Chaplin outfit were sitting in the break area when he said to me, “Charlie, what do you want to do with your life?”
I responded, “Walter, I’ve given my life to Jesus Christ as my Savior and Lord, so I’m going to spend it serving Him in some way.” Walter’s reply jarred me. First, he took the Lord’s name in vain. Then he said, “Am I glad to hear that!”
While I was trying to reconcile his response in my mind, he proceeded to tell me his religious odyssey. He had started off as a young man with a Pentecostal group in Los Angeles. He had a vision of “the Christ” (as he called it) where he woke up in the middle of the night and saw “Jesus,” whose heart came out of His chest and was beating in front of him. After a few days in a trance, Walter began preaching on the streets of Los Angeles.
I’ve forgotten what order or how many other things he had been into since those early days, but they included Science of Mind, Theosophy, Rosicrucianism, some weird group that studied the “silent years of Jesus” (just how, I was afraid to ask!), Mormonism, and at the time I was talking with him, the Self-Realization Fellowship of Yogi Paramanda Yogahanda. He was speaking at their center in Laguna Beach and invited me to come hear him. Thankfully, I was working then and so I had a good excuse not to go!
What was Walter’s problem? How could a man who seemingly began as a Christian end up so fouled up in his beliefs? There were two basic reasons: First, he accepted as his basis of truth and knowledge his own subjective experiences rather than the propositional truth as revealed in the written Word of God. Second, stemming from that wrong foundation, he developed faulty views of the person of Jesus Christ. Without the objective truth of the written Word of God, we cannot develop correct views of who Jesus truly is. At best, we’ll come up with our subjective preferences, but they will not be based on the eyewitness testimony of the apostles.
It’s safe to say that every major cult and heresy has deviated from the biblical revelation of who Jesus Christ really is. They have erred either with regard to His deity or His humanity or the relationship between His two natures. John MacArthur (“Jesus: Glory, Grace, and God,” on gty.org) says, “It is as damning to believe in the wrong Jesus as to believe in no Jesus.” Saving faith is certainly more than believing correct statements about Jesus, but it cannot be less. In our text, John gives us one of the most succinct statements of the unfathomable doctrine of the incarnation:
Jesus, the eternal Word, is God in human flesh, glorious as the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
Verse 14 reconnects us with verse 1 and is the last time John uses “the Word” as a title for Jesus in this gospel. The Word who was in the beginning with God, the Word who was God, the Word who created everything that has come into being, “became flesh, and dwelt among us.” Wayne Grudem (Systematic Theology [Zondervan], p. 563) says of the incarnation,
It is by far the most amazing miracle of the entire Bible—far more amazing than the resurrection and more amazing even than the creation of the universe. The fact that the infinite, omnipotent, eternal Son of God could become man and join himself to a human nature forever, so that infinite God became one person with finite man, will remain for eternity the most profound miracle and the most profound mystery in all the universe.
Leon Morris puts it (The Gospel According to John [Eerdmans], p. 102), “In one short, shattering expression John unveils the great idea at the heart of Christianity that the very Word of God took flesh for man’s salvation.” As we tread on such holy ground, I especially identify with Paul’s rhetorical question (2 Cor. 2:16), “And who is adequate for these things?” Let’s proceed reverently and ask the Holy Spirit to teach us.
1. Jesus, the eternal Word, became flesh.
John now definitely identifies the eternal Word of verse 1 with Jesus Christ, whom he will first name in verse 17. He affirms two truths about Jesus Christ that are essential to the Christian faith:
A. As the eternal Word, Jesus is fully God.
We saw this clearly in verse 1. John asserts that Jesus is eternal. He does not say, “In the beginning, God created the Word as the first and greatest created being.” But rather, “In the beginning was the Word.” The sense of the verb is that He was already existing at the beginning of time because He has no beginning. He is one in essence with the Father (John 10:30) and the triune God is the only eternal being.
Of course, Satan hates the truth of the deity of Jesus Christ, because it spells his doom. And so he has always attacked it. One of the most substantial attacks on the deity of Christ came from the heretic Arius in the early fourth century. He taught that the Word was the first and greatest created being. He gained a large following, but was refuted at the Councils of Nicea (325 A.D.), Constantinople (381 A.D.), and Chalcedon (451 A. D.). The latter two councils also clarified the relationship of the two natures of Christ to correct several other heresies that had sprung up. But the attacks on Christ’s deity have continued through the Unitarians, liberal theologians, and the modern cults, such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons.
But the New Testament clearly affirms the deity of Jesus Christ. He Himself claimed to be God. In John 5:23, He said that the Father had given all judgment to the Son “so that all will honor the Son even as they honor the Father.” In John 8:58, He asserted His eternal existence when He claimed, “Before Abraham was born, I am.” (The Jews would have recognized “I am” as a reference to God’s name as revealed to Moses in Exodus 3:14.) In John 10:30 He asserted, “I and the Father are one.” In John 14:9 He told Philip, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father.”
Also, Scripture directly states that Jesus is God. There are several such references (John 1:1; 20:28; Rom. 9:5; Titus 2:13; 1 John 5:20), but I think the clearest is Hebrews 1:8, which applies Psalm 45:6 to Jesus: “But of the Son He says, ‘Your throne, O God, is forever and ever….” Also, many titles that apply only to God are applied to Jesus. “Lord” is the same as Yahweh of the Old Testament (Isa. 40:3 with John 1:23; Jer. 23:5, 6; Joel 2:32 with Acts 2:21; 4:12; Rom. 10:9-10, 13). He is “the Lord of glory” (1 Cor. 2:8). In Revelation 1:8 God says, “‘I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord God, ‘who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.’” Then just a few verses later (Rev. 1:17), Jesus proclaims, “I am the first and the last.” In Revelation 22:13 (in case we missed it) he reaffirms, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” (See Isa. 41:4.)
Also, Jesus displayed many of the incommunicable attributes of God: He is eternal (John 1:1); omnipresent (Matt. 28:20); omnipotent (Phil. 3:21); immutable (Heb. 1:10-12; 13:8); glorious (John 1:14; 1 Cor. 2:8; Rev. 1:13-16); and sovereign (Phil. 2:10). Paul put it (Col. 2:9), “For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form.” Plus, Jesus did works that only God can do, such as creating all that is (John 1:3, 10; Heb. 1:2); raising the dead (John 5:25-26); overpowering Satan and all spiritual forces (Eph. 1:21); judging all people (John 5:22-23, 27); forgiving sins (Mark 2:5-7); and receiving worship (John 9:38; 20:28). You cannot believe the New Testament and deny the full deity of Jesus Christ.
B. When the eternal Word took on flesh, He became fully human.
John could have said, “The Word became man,” or, “The Word took on a human body.” But the word “flesh” jars you with its bluntness (Morris, p. 102). Probably John was confronting another early heresy, Docetism, which said that Jesus only appeared or seemed to be human. But John wants us to know that Jesus took upon Himself our full human nature, except for sin. From that miraculous moment when Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the virgin Mary, He will never cease to be human. He is forever both God and man in one person.
“Became” does not mean that Jesus ceased to be what He was before. Rather, to His eternal deity, He added perfect humanity. He temporarily laid aside the use of some of His divine attributes and the full display of His glory (Phil. 2:5-8; John 17:5). It shone forth on occasions, but not always (John 2:11; 18:4-6; Luke 9:28-36). But He did not lay aside His deity or cease to be God. Rather, He added complete humanity to His eternal deity. Jesus’ human nature was subject to hunger, thirst, weakness, tiredness, temptation, and death, but He was without sin.
Again, Satan hates the truth that Jesus, the eternal God, took on human flesh, because it qualifies Jesus to be our Savior. So he has attacked this doctrine, too. The Apollinarians acknowledged Christ to be God and man. But they held that Jesus did not take on the soul of a man. The Logos took the place of the rational soul. The Nestorians believed Christ to be both God and man, but they conceived of Him as two persons, thus dividing His unity. The Eutychians held to one person in Christ, but they mixed His two natures, saying that it produced a third thing. They said that Jesus’ humanity was absorbed into His deity, and thus that He only had one nature. This error persists today in what is called Monophysitism, which is held by the Coptic Church in Egypt and Ethiopia, plus other groups in Syria. Another form of it recently was taught by Witness Lee (“the Local Church”), who used the analogy of a tea bag and water. When you mix them, you have a new substance, “tea-water.” Thus in his view, Jesus is a hybrid “God-man.” (A helpful book that explores the practical damaging results of these and other heresies is, The Cruelty of Heresy [Morehouse Publishing], by C. FitzSimons Allison.)
The Council of Chalcedon (451 A.D.) produced a comprehensive and definitive statement on the person of Christ, which is worth pondering (Philip Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom [Baker], 6th ed., p. 62). But you can sum it up by saying, “Jesus Christ is fully God and fully man united in one person forever, without confusion of His two natures.” While it is an incomprehensible mystery how the two natures of Christ interact, we must accept the truth of Scripture, “The Word became flesh.”
2. Jesus, the eternal Word, dwelt among us.
John could have said, “The Word lived among us,” but instead he used the unusual word, translated dwelt, which means “to pitch a tent” or “to tabernacle.” It is used of the tabernacle in the Old Testament, where God dwelt with His people in the wilderness. John does not mean by this term that Jesus’ humanity was temporary, but rather, His stay on earth was temporary.
By using the word that was used of the tabernacle, coupled with seeing Jesus’ glory, John wants us to make some connections. Just as the tabernacle was the place where God dwelt with His people and manifested His glory, so Jesus is Immanuel, God with us. Just as the tabernacle was at the center of Israel’s camp, so Christ is to be at the center of the church. Just as sacrifices and worship were offered at the tabernacle, so Jesus is our complete and final sacrifice, and we have access to God through Him.
Every aspect of the tabernacle speaks of Christ. The bronze altar for sacrifice and the bronze laver for cleansing point to Christ. The table of showbread in the holy place speaks of Christ, the living bread. The golden lampstand points to Christ, the light, who illumines the things of God. The altar of incense reminds us of Christ’s making intercession for us. In the holy of holies, the ark of the covenant, made of wood covered with gold, points to the two natures of Christ. On top of the ark was the mercy seat, where the blood of atonement was sprinkled. Inside were the tablets of the law, pointing to Christ, the fulfillment of God’s law for us; the jar of manna, pointing to Christ as our sustenance; and Aaron’s rod that budded, pointing to Jesus as “the branch,” who was raised from the dead and gives new life to those who were dead in their sins. Jesus, our tabernacle, “dwelt among us”!
3. The apostles saw the glory of the Word who became flesh.
God’s glory is the sum of all His attributes and perfection. It is sometimes displayed as a bright or overpowering light. When John says, “We saw His glory,” he may have been referring in part to the transfiguration, when he and James and Peter saw Jesus in His glory. John could not have forgotten that event, although he doesn’t tell about it in his gospel!
But he is also referring to Jesus’ glory as revealed in His miracles, but only to those who had eyes to see. After Jesus turned the water into wine, John reports (2:11), “This beginning of His signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory, and His disciples believed in Him.” Before Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, He said (John 11:4), “This sickness is not to end in death, but for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by it.” And yet, even after that amazing miracle, the Jewish leaders increased their efforts to kill the one who is the resurrection and the life!
But John also shows that Jesus’ glory was supremely revealed in the cross. When Judas went out of the Upper Room to betray the Savior, Jesus said (John 13:31), “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in Him.” The cross displayed God’s perfect justice and amazing love like no other event in history. In our text, John elaborates on Jesus’ glory with two phrases:
A. The glory of the Word was that of the only Son from the Father.
The NASB translates, “glory as of the only begotten from the Father.” The term, “only begotten,” while a part of the historic creeds, can cause some confusion, namely, that Jesus came into being at a point in time. The Nicene Creed clarifies, “begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father ….” Sometimes it is said that Jesus is “eternally begotten,” so that He is the eternal Son of God.
But most modern scholars say that the Greek word does not refer to the “begetting” aspect of Jesus’ sonship, but rather to His uniqueness. It could be translated, “one and only.” It’s used of the widow of Nain’s only son (Luke 7:12), of Jairus’ “only daughter” (Luke 8:42), and of a man’s only son who was afflicted by an evil spirit (Luke 9:38). Hebrews 11:17 uses it to refer to Isaac, who was not Abraham’s only son, but his unique son, the son of the promise. John is the only New Testament author to use the term of Jesus (John 1:14, 18; 3:16, 18; 1 John 4:9). He means that Jesus is the only or unique Son of God in a way that no one else is. Jesus has no equal among men. We become sons of God through the new birth, but Jesus is the eternal Son, co-equal with the Father in His essence. If you don’t understand how Jesus could be an eternal Son, remember the comment of Augustine, “Show me and explain to me an eternal Father and I will show to you and explain to you an eternal Son.”
Sadly, many supposedly evangelical missionaries to Muslims are producing and endorsing translations of the New Testament that replace the terms “Father” and “Son” with other terms that are less offensive to Muslims. They argue that Muslims wrongly think that Christians believe that Jesus is the result of God having sexual relations with Mary. To remove that stumbling block, they change the terms. But in so doing, they change the very nature of God as He has revealed Himself to us in Scripture. God is the eternal Father and Jesus is His eternal Son. The Holy Spirit is also eternal God; three persons but one God. While it is humanly impossible to fully understand it, we dare not tamper with it to somehow make the message less offensive.
B. The glory of the Word was full of grace and truth.
John is probably referring back to Exodus 33 & 34, where Moses asks to see God’s glory. God explains that he can’t see His face and live, but He will hide Moses in the cleft of a rock, cover him with His hand, and pass by so that Moses can see “His back.” Then we read (Exod. 34:7), “Then the Lord passed by in front of him and proclaimed, ‘The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations.’” In that profound experience, we hear of God’s grace and truth. He is “abounding in lovingkindness” (“grace”) for many, but true to His holiness, He still punishes the guilty.
Jesus was full of grace and truth. His grace offers love and compassion to guilty sinners (John 4:1-26). His truth means that He warns of God’s judgment if sinners do not repent and believe in Him (John 3:16, 18, 36; 5:27-29; 8:24, 40, 45-47). Grace and truth reach their culmination at the cross, where the truth of God’s holiness and justice was satisfied in the death of the perfect Substitute, so that He now can offer grace to guilty sinners who trust in Jesus. It is only by believing the truth as it is in Jesus that you can experience God’s grace and forgiveness. Since Jesus is full of grace, you can come to Him and know that He will welcome you (John 6:37). Because He is full of truth, you can trust His promises.
J. C. Ryle, in his wonderful Expository Thoughts on the Gospels [Baker], 3:26-27) draws several practical lessons from John 1:14. He points out that the constant undivided union of two perfect natures in Christ’s person gives infinite value to His mediation for sinners, to His imputed righteousness to believers, to His atoning blood, and to His resurrection. Then he adds (pp. 27-28),
Did the Word become flesh? Then He is One who can be touched with the feeling of His people’s infirmities, because He has suffered Himself, being tempted. He is almighty because He is God, and yet He can sympathize with us, because He is man.
Did the Word become flesh? Then He can supply us with a perfect pattern and example for our daily life…. Having dwelt among us as a man, we know that the true standard of holiness is to “walk even as He walked” (1 John 2:6). He is a perfect pattern, because He is God. But He is also a pattern exactly suited to our needs, because He is man.
Finally, did the Word become flesh? Then let us see in our mortal bodies a real, true dignity, and not defile them by sin. Vile and weak as our body may seem, it is a body which the Eternal Son of God was not ashamed to take upon Himself, and to take up to heaven. That simple fact is a pledge that He will raise our bodies at the last day, and glorify them together with His own.
As Charles Wesley put it (“Hark, the Herald Angels Sing”), “Veiled in flesh, the Godhead see; hail the incarnate Deity.”
- What Scriptures would you use to show a member of a cult that Jesus is God? What Scriptures would he use to try to disprove it? How would you explain these?
- Why is it important to affirm Jesus’ true humanity? What practical benefits fall if we do not affirm His humanity?
- Can a person who denies either Jesus’ full deity or humanity be truly saved? Discuss John MacArthur’s comment, “It is as damning to believe in the wrong Jesus as to believe in no Jesus.”
- Why must God’s grace always be balanced by His truth? What errors emerge if we err on either side?
Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2013, All Rights Reserved.
Lesson 5: Why You Should Believe in Jesus (John 1:15-18)Related Media
March 17, 2013
Suppose that you have an opportunity to share Christ with a friend or family member and that person says, “I’m relatively happy just as I am and I really enjoy not having anything to do (like going to church) on Sunday mornings. Why should I believe in Jesus?” What would you say?
There are many different things that could be said. It would seem that anyone who gave such an answer has no idea of his precarious standing before the Judge of the universe. He’s one breath away from eternal condemnation and yet he thinks things are going well and he sees no need to be reconciled with God. He has no idea of the magnitude of his own sin and guilt or of the absolute holiness and justice of God. So you may need to explore those issues before your friend would appreciate the message of our text.
But at some point, as I’ve pointed out in our previous studies in John, the issue becomes, “Who do you say that Jesus is?” If He is who He claimed to be and who John presents Him to be in this gospel, then it would be extremely foolish not to believe in Him as your Savior and Lord. In our text, John builds on the wonderful truths in verse 14 to give four more reasons to believe in Jesus:
You should believe in Jesus because He is greater than all the prophets; He provides abundant grace; He is greater than Moses and the law; and, He is God’s ultimate revelation to us.
In verse 14, John says, “and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.” In our text, he continues to unfold the glory of Jesus Christ, the eternal Word. Someday when we see Jesus in the fullness of His glory that sight will transform us to be like Him (1 John 3:2): “Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is.” (See, also, 2 Cor. 3:18.) So our text has practical value, not only for pointing others to Christ, but also for transforming us into the image of Jesus Christ as we see more of His glory now.
As I said last week, the background behind our text is probably the encounter that Moses had with God in Exodus 33 & 34. After Moses secures God’s promise to go with them on their journey to the promised land, he boldly asks (33:18), “I pray You, show me Your glory!” God responds (33:19), “I Myself will make all My goodness pass before you, and will proclaim the name of the Lord before you; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show compassion on whom I will show compassion.”
Then God explains to Moses that he cannot see God’s face and live, but He will show him “His back.” So Moses returns to Mount Sinai, the Lord descends in the cloud, and we read (Exod. 34:6-7), “Then the Lord passed by in front of him and proclaimed, ‘The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations.’”
So Moses asks to see God’s glory and God responds by showing him His sovereign grace, compassion, and truth. In our text, John wants us to see that in Jesus, we see God’s abundant grace and goodness far more than Moses saw it, because Jesus is God’s ultimate revelation to us.
1. You should believe in Jesus because as eternal God, He is greater than all the prophets (1:15).
John 1:15, “John testified about Him and cried out, saying, ‘This was He of whom I said, “He who comes after me has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me.”’” Since verse 16 seems to explain verse 14, verse 15 may be “a planned parenthetical remark” (D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John [Eerdmans/Apollos], p. 130). If the prologue is arranged in a chiastic structure, then verse 15 corresponds to verses 6-8, which also report John’s witness to Jesus. And, it also sets the stage for the extended section on John the Baptist’s witness that immediately follows the prologue.
What does John the Baptist mean by his statement, “He who comes after me has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me”? It could be translated, “He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me,” or “he was first with respect to me” (Carson, p. 131). John was six months older than Jesus (Luke 1:24-31) and he began his public ministry before Jesus’ ministry. So by the first part of that declaration, John was dispelling the common cultural view that the older man had greater honor than the younger one. He is saying that Jesus is the greater one.
But what does he mean by the last phrase, “because he was first with respect to me”? It’s unlikely that John the Baptist was clear from the outset of Jesus’ eternal existence as the Word. After all, it took the disciples until after the resurrection for the fog to lift so that they understood the truth that Jesus is God. So it may be that the Baptist meant, “He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was always greater than I.” But as Colin Kruse explains (John [IVP Academic], p. 73), “The evangelist may have introduced a note of ambiguity into the way he has reported John’s words so that his readers will recognize that John spoke better than he knew.” Later in this gospel (11:50-52; 18:39; 19:14-15, 19, 21-22), both Caiaphas and Pilate spoke better than they knew (ibid.).
So, the apostle John wants us to see that Jesus is greater than John the Baptist and all the other prophets because, whether the Baptist fully recognized it or not, Jesus is the eternal Word. He had a higher rank than John because He existed before John, although he was younger than John. Jesus said that there were none greater than John the Baptist (Matt. 11:11). So if John himself testified that Jesus was greater than he, and if John’s words about Jesus may be taken to point to His preexistence, then Jesus is greater than all the prophets. Thus we should believe in Him.
2. You should believe in Jesus because He provides abundant grace for all who believe in Him (1:16).
John 1:16, “For of His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace.” As I said, verse 16 seems to be explaining verse 14, which said that Jesus is “full of grace.” Verse 17 will elaborate on the fact (from 1:14) that Jesus is also full of truth.
Paul wrote (Col. 2:9), “For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form.” So there is an infinite fullness, the very fullness of God, in Jesus Christ. When we receive Christ by trusting in Him (John 1:12), we become children of God and thus heirs to all the riches of heaven (Eph. 1:3; Rom. 8:16, 17; Eph. 2:7). So in verse 16, John means (as J. C. Ryle explains, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels [Baker], 3:38), “All we who believe in Jesus have received an abundant supply of all that our souls need out of the full store that resides in Him for His people. It is from Christ and Christ alone, that all our spiritual wants have been supplied.”
I hate to burden such a wonderful verse with a technical interpretive issue, but we do need to consider what John means by the phrase, “grace upon grace.” John uses a Greek preposition, anti, that means that one thing is replaced by another or put in the place of another. In light of verse 17, many reputable commentators understand it to mean that the grace of the law was replaced by the grace of Jesus Christ (Carson, p. 132; Andreas Kostenberger, John [Baker], pp. 46-47; this view goes back to several early church fathers). They contend that if John had meant “grace upon grace,” he would have used another preposition, epi. In light of God’s revelation to Moses of His grace in Exodus 33 & 34, this may be what John means for us to understand. But it strikes me as a bit subtle, especially since the law itself was not noted for dispensing grace.
The Bauer-Arndt-Gingrich Greek-English Lexicon [University of Chicago Press], 2nd ed., p. 73) says that in John 1:16, anti means “grace pours forth in ever new streams.” (In the same vein, see A. T. Robertson, A Grammar of the Greek New Testament [Broadman Press], p. 574.) Another scholar, Murray J. Harris (The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology [Zondervan], ed. by Colin Brown, p. 1179) says that the preposition in this verse “denotes a perpetual and rapid succession of blessings, as though there were no interval between the arrival of one blessing and the receipt of the next.” When you add in the idea of Jesus’ fullness, at the very least John wants us to see that in Him we get all the grace that we need. It’s an inexhaustible supply.
John Calvin (Calvin’s Commentaries [Baker], p. 50) applies verse 16 in three ways. He says that first it shows us that while we’re all spiritually destitute, the abundance that exists in Christ “is intended to supply our deficiency, to relieve our poverty, to satisfy our hunger and thirst.” Second, if we depart from Christ, “it is in vain for us to seek a single drop of happiness” elsewhere. The world can never give us the lasting joy we find in Christ. Third, we have no reason to fear lacking anything if we draw on Christ’s fullness, because He is “a truly inexhaustible fountain.” He points out that John includes himself in verse 16 to make it plain that no one is excepted. All who believe have received grace upon grace.
But it’s easy to say that Christ satisfies our every need with His fullness and grace, but it’s another thing really to experience it. It’s so easy when problems hit to turn to other things than Christ for relief. Even many Christians turn to worldly techniques or to tranquilizers or even to alcohol to reduce stress and “calm their nerves.” But here is Jesus’ prescription for peace in a troubled world (John 16:33): “These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.”
Paul said that the way to overcome anxiety is to seek the Lord in prayer (Phil. 4:6-7): “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Maybe you’re thinking, “I tried that, but the problems didn’t go away.” Well, Paul tried it, too, and his problems didn’t go away. That’s when the Lord told him (2 Cor. 12:9), “My grace is sufficient for you, for [My] power is perfected in weakness.” The key to peace is not the absence of problems, but the presence of the all-sufficient grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.
3. You should believe in Jesus because He is greater than Moses and the law (1:17).
John 1:17: “For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ.” Why does John introduce the law and Moses here? For one thing, in Exodus 34, when God called Moses back to Mount Sinai to reveal His glory, He instructed him to cut out two stone tablets like the former ones that he had broken in anger when he went down the mountain and found the people worshiping the golden calf (Exod. 34:1). God re-issued the law on that occasion of showing Moses His glory. The law, as summarized in the Ten Commandments, manifested God’s grace (“lovingkindness”) and truth (Exod. 34:6). If that passage is the backdrop for these verses in John, then he is showing that as great as the law and Moses were, someone who embodies grace and truth had now “tabernacled” among us.
Andreas Kostenberger (ibid., p. 47) points out, “Rather than offend the Gospel’s Jewish audience, this verse is designed to draw it in: ‘If you want an even more gracious demonstration of God’s covenant love and faithfulness,’ the evangelist tells his readers, ‘it is found in Jesus Christ.’” So John is saying, “If you thought that God’s gift of the law through Moses was a great thing (and it was), He has given us a greater gift now through Jesus Christ.”
But it seems to me that John is at the same time drawing a contrast between the inferiority of the law and the superiority of Jesus Christ. Leon Morris (The Gospel According to John [Eerdmans], p. 112) points out, “The contrast of the Christian way with the Jewish and the function of Moses as subordinate to and pointing forward to the Christ is a recurring theme in the Gospel (see 5:39, 46; 6:32; 8:32ff.; 9:28ff.).” J. C. Ryle (Ibid., 3:40) puts it this way:
By Moses was given the law—the moral law, full of high and holy demands, and of stern threatenings against disobedience;—the ceremonial law, full of burdensome sacrifices, ordinances, and ceremonies, which never healed the worshipper’s conscience, and at best were only shadows of good things to come.
By Christ, on the other hand, came grace and truth—grace by the full manifestation of God’s plan of salvation, and the offer of complete pardon to every soul that believes on Jesus,—and truth, by the unveiled exhibition of Christ Himself, as the true sacrifice, the true Priest, and the true atonement for sin.
Augustine, on this verse, says: “The law threatened, not helped; commanded, not healed; showed, not took away, our feebleness. But it made ready for the Physician who was to come with grace and truth.”
Also, note that this is the first time that John has used the human name, Jesus, or His designation as Christ, or Messiah. He uses “Jesus” 237 times, more than any other gospel and more than a quarter of all New Testament uses (Morris, p. 112). He also uses “Christ” more often than any other gospel, although he only uses “Jesus Christ” together one other time (17:3; but see 20:31). In 1:17, John is making it clear that the Word who was in the beginning with God, the Word who was God, and the Word who became flesh and dwelt among us, is none other than Jesus the Messiah of Israel.
As I pointed out in our last study, God’s grace and truth reach their apex at the cross. His truth demanded that the penalty for sin be fully paid. His grace provided Jesus, the eternal Son of God, as that payment for sin for all who believe in Him. So make sure that you have received God’s gift of eternal life by trusting in Jesus Christ as your sin-bearer.
Thus John says that you should believe in Jesus because He is greater than all the prophets, including John the Baptist; you should believe in Him because He provides abundant grace for all who believe; you should believe in Him because He is greater than Moses and the law. Finally,
4. You should believe in Jesus because He is God’s ultimate revelation to us (1:18).
John 1:18: “No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.” At first glance, this verse seems to come out of nowhere. Why would John abruptly bring up the fact that no one has seen God? There may be two reasons: First, if Exodus 33 & 34 is the backdrop for these verses, when Moses there asked God to show him His glory, God responded that no man could see Him and live (Exod. 33:20). Second, verse 18 wraps up the chiasm of the prologue by tying back to verse 1. We cannot know the invisible God unless He reveals Himself to us, which He has done in the Word. Jesus, the Word, who is the only Son of God, the one who was “with God” (1:1), “in the bosom of the Father” (1:18), “He has explained Him” to us.
You may wonder why Exodus 24:10 says that the leaders of Israel saw God and Isaiah saw God (Isa. 6:1) and yet God Himself says that no one can see Him and live; John says that no one has seen God at any time; and Paul says that no man has seen or can see God (1 Tim. 6:16). The answer is that no one has seen the essence of God in His unmitigated glory. Those who got a vision of God either saw Christ in His preincarnate glory (John 12:41) or they had an obscured vision of the glory around God’s throne. Almost always, those who got such a limited vision of God were terrified by the experience. But now Jesus has revealed God to us, especially His abundant grace and truth.
Some of you have a translation that reads, “the only begotten Son” rather than “the only begotten God.” The earliest and best manuscripts favor the reading “only begotten God.” Since it is a unique phrase and is more difficult to explain than “only begotten Son,” a scribe probably changed the original to “only begotten Son” to correspond to John 3:16 & 18. Thus translated literally, the verse in the original probably read, “the unique Son, God, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.” As Jesus will later say (6:46), “Not that anyone has seen the Father, except the One who is from God; He has seen the Father.” And (14:9), “He who has seen Me has seen the Father.”
So verse 18 again (as in 1:1, “the Word was God”) affirms Jesus’ deity, but at the same time distinguishes Him from the Father (as in 1:1, “the Word was with God”). He is the eternal Son of God, always in intimate relationship with the eternal Father. The phrase “in the bosom of the Father” corresponds to “the Word was with God” (1:1) and points to the close and unbroken fellowship that Jesus enjoyed with the Father, as seen in His prayer in chapter 17. It also shows us the horror of the cross for Jesus, when as He bore our sins He cried out (Matt. 27:46), “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”
The word “explained” is the Greek word from which we get our word “exegete.” It is parallel to “the Word” in 1:1. Just as a word explains an unseen thought, so Jesus, the Word, explains the unseen God to us. The only way that you can know the Father is through Jesus His Son (Luke 10:22; John 14:6). Elsewhere John writes (1 John 2:23), “Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father; the one who confesses the Son has the Father also.” In John 5:23 Jesus states, “He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him.”
This means that the cults, which all deny the deity of Jesus, cannot bring anyone to God. It also means that the Insider Movement, which has changed the terms “Father” and “Son” because they are offensive to Muslims has perverted the core of the gospel. It’s fine to explain what the terms mean, but it’s not fine to change the terms that God has used to reveal Himself to us in His Son.
John didn’t write these things to satisfy our curiosity or to stimulate intellectual discussions. Rather, he wants us to know that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, so that we will believe in Him for eternal life (20:31). Why should you believe in Jesus? John says that you should believe in Jesus because He is greater than all the prophets; He provides abundant grace for all that trust in Him; He is greater than Moses and the law; and, He is God’s ultimate revelation of Himself to us.
If you turn away from faith in Jesus Christ, you are rejecting the witness that God has given concerning His Son. If you believe, then you can say with John (1 John 5:20), “And we know that the Son of God has come, and has given us understanding so that we may know Hi m who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life.”
- When you share your faith, why is it important to keep steering the conversation back to who Jesus is? To what extent should you detour into answering questions and objections?
- Do you struggle with doubts? How can rehearsing the apostolic witness to Jesus strengthen your faith and help you deal with bouts of doubt?
- Sometimes you’ll hear that believing in Jesus is a blind “leap of faith.” Why is this a harmful view of faith? If faith is based on solid evidence, then how is it faith?
- Some authors draw a contrast between “the God of the Old Testament,” whom they say is judgmental, and Jesus, whom they say is loving and full of mercy. Why is this fallacious?
Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2013, All Rights Reserved.
These women's messages were designed to push us back to the real meaning of Christmas. While the busy-ness and activities that come with the Christmas season can be a relentless pull, these messages provide the grounding force necessary to help keep things in perspective. These speaking notes are offered for you to adapt and use for your own ministry.
Capturing Joy In A Crowded SeasonRelated Media
Today we want to talk about Capturing Joy in a Crowded Season. At Christmastime, doesn’t that sound like the Impossible Dream? Look around us, we are already crowded.
- Newstands- holiday magazines calling us to cook special holiday foods, decorate our tables and our homes
- TV – Christmas programs that promise to be the “best one” ever, you can’t miss it. Charlie Brown’s Christmas
- Stores- bursting with sales, rebates, merchandise that you need to buy for all those on your “list”
- Lists – how long are your lists? How many lists do you have? How many times have you lost your lists?
- Gifts- how are doing on that list? Have you figured out the perfect gift for each person?
- Christmas Card list? Did you write a special note on each one, or include a family newsletter?
Are you overwhelmed yet? And I haven’t even talked about your grocery list yet. It is a crowded season especially for us as women. There are other things that crowd our season. Things like
- Tension: Painful relationships- discord in your family, separation between family members
- Fear: loss of a job, loss of income, trying to sell a house in this market
- Health issue is overwhelming you, yours or someone close to you
- Memories of past Christmases- either good or bad
THIS IS A CROWDED SEASON…FOR ALL OF US
Let me ask you a question: I want you to think about the answer and then tell the answer to the person sitting next to you. Only going to take a minute, don’t tell your life story.
“Who or What might potentially “crowd” your Christmas this year?
Save that answer, we’re going to come back to it. We all are going to have a crowded season. But I believe we also all have an opportunity to capture joy, incredible, wonderful joy- “the good news of great joy”
So, let’s read about another crowded season READ Luke 2:1-7
JESUS was born into a Crowded world- There were so many people that Caesar Augustus wanted to count them. Imagine the traffic on the roads with everyone trying to get “home’ for the census. Picture the Lines that you would have had to stand in to fill out the forms. Where would you get food? or clothes or a doctor? When they show pictures of people sleeping in the airports during the holidays, the immense number of travelers, I think of the world that Christ was born in. A world crowded with people.
Ie Olivia’s story “too many people in my room”
On night when my granddaughter was little, I was tucking her into bed. We had read the story, said our prayers and were about to turn off the light when her mother came in and sat on the end of the bed and wanted to say goodnight. Then her brother came in and did the same, followed by her dad and granddad. Her little room and bed got very crowded and she was sleepy. Into the noise of everyone talking she said “There’s too many people in my room”! We couldn’t help but laugh and then leave but when I read the story of Mary and Joseph I’m sure they felt like Olivia …
There were too many people in Bethlehem too, too many for Mary and Joseph to find a hotel. The Inn had too many people, it was too crowded to give them a room. And yet, into this crowded space and time, Jesus comes and is born, his birth brings “great joy for all people.”
Truth: Our joy does not come from the absence of a crowded season, but our joy comes in the midst of it. You and I will not be insulated from this crowded, frantic Christmas season, we will live in the middle of it.
So the question becomes How do we, surrounded by the season, capture the joy that Christ came to bring?
I believe the answer is in the Story itself. The Scriptures tell us. Woven throughout the birth narrative are smaller stories of people impacted by the birth of Christ. Tonight I’d like to narrow our focus to 3 groups of people that show us 3 different ways we can Capture Christmas Joy.
1. Discover Christ
When Jesus was eight days old, he was taken to the temple to be consecrated to the Lord fulfilling what was required by the Law of Moses. Many Jews at this time were looking for the Messiah to come. Some believed a great Ruler would descend on the earth and overthrow all their enemies. But in contrast to them, there were also a few people who were known as “The Quiet in the Land”. These people had a different view of Messiah. They didn’t dream of armies but instead were Jews who lived a life of quiet prayer and faithful watchfulness until God would reveal His Messiah. This very day that Mary and Joseph took Jesus to the Temple, there was a devout elderly man named Simeon who had been told by the Spirit of God that he would not die until he saw the Messiah. Along with Simeon was an elderly widow named Anna. Listen to what happens
READ Luke 2:27-32: 36-38
They discovered what they had been looking for all their lives. When they saw Him they knew this was the Christ, the Anointed One, the Messiah. The word ”Knowing” here is not only an intellectual assent to a fact or to a proposition, like “ I know how to speak Spanish, or I know the name of the President of France” This knowing is that and much more. It is believing, trusting and putting one’s faith and hope in, knowing in the very deepest part of me, embracing with all my heart. Discovering Christ for yourself is believing that He is who He said He was. The Son of God, come to earth to be the Savior of all. Jesus, the unique God/Man, fully God and fully Man come to earth to redeem us from our sins. Receiving Christ is saying to God, I am a sinner- I am not perfect, no matter how good I try to be, I need a Savior, I trust that Christ to be my Savior and Lord.
That is the good news, the true Christmas Story.
Will Willimon writes about the contrast between the story of Christmas written by Charles Dickens and the one found in Luke’s gospel. In the Christmas Carol, Dickens tells us how we should give to others (and that’s good) but in Luke, we learn how essential it is to see ourselves first as receivers. That’s tough, we’d rather see ourselves as capable, self-sufficient, generous, caring givers. But the gospel, the good news, is for poor, needy, empty people who open their hands to the free gift of salvation in Jesus Christ.
Have you ever done that? Have you ever trusted Christ? Discovered Him?
Ie: I was raised in a Christian home, baptized, faithful in my church attendance, but it wasn’t until I was grown and married that I understood, none of those things enabled me to truly “know Christ.” I had a religion but no relationship with God. When I put aside trying to control my own life, when I put my faith, trust in Christ- I came to Know Him. Do you know Him?
Joy in this crowded Christmas season, first comes with Discovering Christ, personally knowing the One whose birth we celebrate.
Meister Eckhart “The eternal birth must take place in you”
In a group like this, many of you have Discovered Him. Many of you have come to know Him, many of you have received Him as your Savior. But I think our challenge in this crowded season is to remember that no matter how long you have been a Christ follower, Jesus calls us to be “poor in spirit,” meaning to be continually dependent on Him. To release the daily the control of our lives to Him. The call for those of us who have received Him is to come to Know Him more.
Phil 3:10 I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings becoming like Him.
Christmas= Christ- Mas= More Christ
The reason we want to Know Him more is to become like Him, to expand our faith, to grow up in Christ. This is the life of the passionate disciple.
Ie: Several years ago, we were in Israel and at the hotel we were staying there was a wedding outside in the courtyard below our room. As we walked by, in the breezeway we stopped and watched the ceremony- it was all just open. After they were married, the groom and the bride were carried around the terrace high up on chairs with everyone dancing, as they came by where we were, they tried to pull us into the dance- they wanted us to join them, spontaneous invitation. In a sense, we went to their wedding, but we didn’t know who they were and we couldn’t speak their language. We didn’t know them. Their wedding, as beautiful as it was, had little meaning for us. It is a nice memory, but it can’t in any way compare to the weddings of my daughter, daughters-in-law, my sons, who I intimately know and deeply love.
Christmas Joy is like this. Joy in Knowing Him, knowing intimately why we celebrate this time of year.
But I do believe you can Know Him and still fail to Capture Joy in our crowded season. That brings us to another story. Along with Discovering Christ, there is a call on our lives to…
2. Treasure Christ
The Scriptures are unclear how much time passes between the birth and the visit of the Magi. We know that Wise Men “from the East” saw a star, a unique star that indicated to them a Jewish King had been born. They traveled to Jerusalem to get information, asked where were they to go to find this baby? They were told to go to Bethlehem. In Bethlehem, a ruler would be born who would be “the shepherd of the people Israel”
READ Matthew 2:1-11
Soren Kierkegaard makes this interesting observation about the scribes in Jerusalem. They
Could explain where Messiah should be born but they stayed in Jerusalem. They did not accompany the Wise Men to seek Him. Similarly we may know the whole of Christianity, yet make no movement…what a difference! The three kings had only a rumor to go by. But it moved them to make that long journey. The scribes were much better informed, much better versed. They sat and studied the Scriptures, but it did not make them move.”
The scribes knew but they did not seek, they knew but they did not adore, they knew but they did not treasure This could be true of us too. For us, this season, we must Know the Christ Child, be born anew with His Spirit but there is more. It was the Wise Men who pursued, continued to travel to find this new King. And when they found Him, they worshiped Him, gave Him gifts, they adored Him, they treasured Him.
I like this word TREASURE especially during this season. Most of us receive gifts at Christmas, among those gifts only a few become treasures to us. I treasure an angel that my daughter-in-law gave me the first Christmas she spent with our family- it has great meaning for both of us. I treasure a small Christmas tree pin my niece gave me about 10 years ago. I treasure this gold band my husband gave me many Christmases ago. Many gifts but few treasures. I’m sure that you have special gifts: large or small, that you treasure as well. However, God’s gift to us of His Son is His treasure to us, given so that we may Discover Him and Treasure Him.
You may ask How do we treasure Christ? The Wise Men started the giving tradition that we continue at Christmas. They gave from hearts of worship because Giving is the natural overflow of worshipping hearts. Look at the Wise Men. When they found Him, they were overjoyed, filled with joy- this very same joy that we want to capture this season- bowed down and worshiped Him, they adored Him, they honored Him with their gifts.
All of us can take the opportunity to offer our worship to Christ corporately in our local churches. But we also give to Christ our adoration in quiet private times of prayer and reflection. Those times RESTORE our SOULS and allow us to take deep breaths of JOY in a Crowded Season.
I know how difficult it is for young mothers or working women, seems impossible. Maybe you only have 5 minutes or maybe it’s an hour. Whatever, Devote that time to thinking about Him, telling Him how much you love Him, giving Him thanks. Pray about that Christmas list and the people on it. Your day will be different.
Some of the things that help me to treasure Christ:
- I read Advent devotions in December to prepare my heart to adore Him. I want my mind thinking about Christ during my day. I want to reflect on aspects of His coming to Bethlehem, leaving behind “Visited Planet” (Yan)
- I have a nativity postcard that I carry in my purse and keep another in the kitchen- to look at often to be reminded to adore Him. I don’t know about you but I get very distracted everyday but especially during Christmas. I’m a visual person. I’m the one that needs to look at bible verse cards and to look at pictures.
- Starting Dec 1, I only listen to Christmas music. My husband gets a little tired of it playing all day in the house but it’s another way I can praise God. The words to some of the Christmas hymns are so uplifting. Not just the traditional ones, I love all of them- because in some fashion- with every Christmas song- THE WORLD is celebrating Jesus’ birthday. Peace on earth, Goodwill to men- only through Jesus Christ will that ever be true.
Simple ways, but intentional.
What are some ways you can treasure Christ this season? Perhaps you could share with others ways that help you treasure Christ at Christmas.
Discovering Him and Treasuring Him leads us to another part of Christmas joy. During this season like no other we have opportunities in our family, with our friends and with complete strangers to talk about Jesus. To
3. Share Christ
To share the good news, to share the joy that knowing Christ brings, to share Him with others who may be frazzled, lonely or desperate for a glimpse of True Christmas Joy.
Let’s look back in the story to the first ones to share the transformation power of His birth.
READ Luke 2:8-20
This little baby boy born into a crowded world, at a crowded season of time, invades our universe, calls to us to Know Him as our Savior, He is born so that we are born anew. He is worthy of all our adoration, a treasured King of Kings and Lord of Lords. And this good news is to be shared.
The shepherds were the first to hear the news, they hurried, they ran “to see” about “this thing” the angels spoke of, as soon as they saw, they went and shared with others.
Martin Luther writes
(the fact) That there were shepherds means that no one is to hear the Gospel for himself alone, but everyone is to tell it to others who are not acquainted with it.
I have a beautiful, beaded silk pashmina, multi-colored with long black tassels. It’s one of my favorite things. I keep it wrapped up in tissue paper in a drawer so nothing can happen to it. It is precious to me, I love it. If you were to open that drawer you would see the tissue paper but you would have to unwrap it to see its beauty. Many of us keep our faith wrapped up in tissue paper and no one really sees the love we have for Christ because we don’t share it. We keep it hidden, private.
But if you know Him, and you treasure Him, you have a story to share with others. It’s how your own life story has been changed by Christ’s birth, His life, death and resurrection.
There’s an old saying “ Share the gospel everyday in all you do, wherever you are, when necessary use words.”
That implies that we are sharing the good news everyday with our actions. I know that this crowded season will give you and give me numerous opportunities to serve as Christ to others, to give ourselves away, to embody and reflect the Incarnation of Christ, the Christ who is born in us, is manifested to a watching world. Can you think of WHO in your circle of family and friends needs to hear or be shown the Love OF CHRIST?
Truth: This is Radical Christianity: it is in the giving of ourselves to others that we receive great JOY. This is where true, lasting joy will be found. This is not news to you. We all have felt the warmth inside when we’ve been able to help someone else, done a good deed. Radical Christianity calls us to give when it’s not convenient, when it’s not easy, when it hurts or costs us, when we have busy schedules, many demands, and no time to spare.
We’re to share Christ, to be like Christ in a crowded season.
- For many of us, it’s starts in the car: we’re called to be defensive drivers, but Christ calls us to be generous drivers, not upset when we’re cut off , willing to let others have the best parking place, count it joy.
- Move into the mall, or store. Being patient in a long line, sharing Christ’s smile to that frustrated salesperson, being radically different from all the other shoppers who are stressed to the max, count it joy
- At Christmas parties- whether it’s at your house or you are a guest, being more concerned that others are having a good time, everyone is engaged, going to the loner and striking up a conversation. being more concerned about others than yourself, count it joy.
- In the workplace, what a great opportunity to listen to others who might find this time of the year difficult, listen with the hope of encouraging those who may be going through a loss, a health issue, financial problems, all the ups and downs of life – just maybe you’ll get the chance to pray for them, count it joy.
Illustration: I know all of us wrestle with situations that catch us off guard, situations we didn’t plan or abruptly confront us. A few weeks ago, I had an encounter with a homeless woman. She wanted money to buy food. After I said no and walked on to buy my lunch, I was compelled to turn back. I offered to buy her food instead of giving $. We went into a sandwich shop and I told her she could pick out anything to eat and drink. She thanked me and went outside to sit down and have her lunch. In a hurry, I got in my car and started to eat my sandwich. As I drove off I was feeling pretty good, when God impressed my thoughts “you could have stayed and eaten with her, heard her story, prayed for her…that would have been great Joy.”
Do you remember the question I asked you earlier?
“Who or What might “crowd” your Christmas this year?
Whatever your answer, the Truth is all of us will have a crowded Christmas ahead. But what will you do to Capture Joy in the midst?
Jesus teaches “we reap what we sow”…my kids like to say “what goes around, comes around”
When you choose to Discover Christ, to Treasure Him and to Share His love with others, it doesn’t matter how crowded your Christmas becomes, for you will capture the true Joy of the season.
I wonder if you will “reawaken” your commitment to Discover Him, To Worship and Treasure Him, and Share His love serving others this season- to have the Birth of Christ lived out in you- true Joy, eternal Joy, the Joy of the Good news of Glad tidings for all people.
Will you, surrounded by the crowded season, capture the joy that Christ came to bring?
The Hallmark Of A Good Gift: Caring Enough To Send The Very Best-- A Christmas Message from Genesis 4Related Media
It’s Christmastime—a season when company buffets of roast beef and honey-baked ham end with white elephant exchanges. Elementary schools hold food drives and Salvation Army volunteers patiently wait for their kettles to fill with coins. Icicle lights hang off eaves in neighborhoods where fruitcakes are sometimes still wrapped in red cellophane and received with polite appreciation. At home fires crackle, while at the mall window displays compete to lure in shoppers on search-and-destroy missions for “the perfect gift.” Those preferring to avoid mall traffic browse through stacks of catalogs or surf the Net—because, after all, it’s the season for gift giving.
What’s the most memorable gift anyone has ever given you?
When the great outdoorsman, Teddy Roosevelt, was president, an admirer sent him a coyote. (Unfortunately, when it arrived, it broke free and terrorized the First Family and the White House staff.) In O. Henry’s story, The Gift of the Magi, a husband sells his watch to buy his wife combs, while she sells her hair to buy him a watch chain. When my friend lost her hair to chemotherapy, her husband bought her a silver brush—expressing his hope for the future—and with it a matching mirror inscribed with “My Hero.” The sorts of gifts we give can reveal a lot about us and about our relationship with each recipient.
That was certainly the case in a different First Family—the children of Adam and Eve. In Genesis 4 we read about a murder that happened all because, simply put, one of the brothers gave a half-hearted gift. Unfortunately in this case, the recipient was the Lord.
But before we talk about details of the who-done-it, we need to set the stage. Prior to this story, our first parents had been expelled from Eden, where they had enjoyed a serene existence. But their choice to disobey God had resulted in God’s cursing of the snake and the ground. And it had also involved God’s pronouncement that there was going to be conflict. Adam and Eve probably could not have imagined how deeply they would feel the devastation within their own family, but their oldest child broke their hearts. And it had all seemed to start out so well.
The first verse we read after Adam and Eve leave Eden says, “Now the man had intimate relations with his wife, Eve, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, ‘I have created a man along with the Lord ‘“ (v. 1). The text actually says, “The man ‘knew’ his wife...” To “know” someone in the biblical sense is often used as a euphemism for intimate relations. So Adam ‘‘knew” Eve, and she got pregnant and had a son. Eve called him Cain because “Cain” sounds a lot like what she said when she gave birth to him. She chose a name that—in Hebrew—sounds like the word “create.”
That makes a lot of sense to me. You see, our daughter was eight months old when we adopted her. After a decade of infertility that included seven pregnancy losses and three failed adoptions, we finally had good news. Now obviously because of her age, she already had a name when she came to us. But we decided to change it as part of our bonding process with her. Because I had been unable to carry a child to term, we could not pass on to a daughter any of our genetics. So we chose to name our new arrival “Alexandra”—which is the longer form of my own name, Sandra. If, as her mother, I was unable to give her a part of my physical self, I wanted her to carry with her a different part of me. As she says, “Your tummy was broken, but I grew in your heart.” Like Eve I gave my child a name that sounds like something I wanted to communicate about her.
Hebrew parents did that all the time. For example, “Isaac” sounds a lot like the Hebrew word for “laugh.” And because Sarah laughed when told she was going to have to buy Depends and Pampers in the same aisle, the name seemed appropriate.
Just think about that. Imagine how you would marvel at the miracle of human birth if you’d never seen a tiny human. If for the first time you saw in the face of a son the reflection of your own humanity, unlike the animals you’ve seen reproduced, you’d stand amazed. After the agony of childbirth with no epidural or La Maze preparation, Eve must have stared at this tiny creature who looked back at her through eyes that blended her features with Adam’s. His nose. Her mouth. Her hair coloring. Her husband’s ears. “A little bit of you and a little bit of me.”
It is no wonder that Eve would give her son a name that reflects how this must have made her marvel. Often infertile couples express that some of the key losses not “solved” by adoption are the loss of their own genetic continuity, the loss of creating a miracle in cooperation with God, and the loss of a jointly-conceived child. In sort, they grieve the loss of the moment Eve seems to be describing; her expression wraps them all together: “I have created a man along with the Lord.” In partnership with God she has been a co-creator. Where did her “work” stop and God’s begin? It would be impossible to say.
The Hebrew word for man is “Adam.” So Eve’s reference to her son as a “man” rather than “child” or “infant,” as we might expect, seems to point back to God’s own creation of “Adam.” It emphasizes again the marvel of the creative process at work. Perhaps Eve’s expression is equivalent to what believing women typically say today after giving birth: “It’s a miracle!”
When I wrote books “with” my late co-author, Dr. Bill Cutrer, people would ask who wrote what. They expected me to say I wrote the relational stuff, and he wrote the medical scenes. But that’s not how it worked. He knew a lot about relationships, and I’ve experienced some medical procedures through the years. We dreamed up ideas. We argued. We compromised. We blended and we bent. I did some research; he added some stories from his medical practice. I tweaked it based on input received from ministry through the years. By the time each book was finished, it was such a synergistic blend of our thoughts combined with those of our spouses, edited by both—it was a complete co-creation. It would be impossible to carve out what was the effort of one or the other. We were co-authors. And I think that’s similar to what Eve expresses here about the miracle of birth: “I have created a man along with the Lord!”
So the scene begins beautifully, and I imagine this new mom, like any mother, had great hopes for her little blessing. And soon she has another one. In verse two we read that she names him Abel, and we get a little nervous. Though the text doesn’t say it, Abel means “breath” or “vanity.” If you’ve read in Ecclesiastes, “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity,” that is the word used here. And it makes us stop to wonder, Will the breath of “Breath man” be snuffed out before its time?
Well, time goes by and the boys grow up. Do you wonder if they wrestled? Did they find a pomegranate and play ball? All we’re told is their occupations: “Now Abel was shepherding a flock, but Cain was working the ground.” You’ve got a shepherd and a farmer. And notice that Cain worked the “ground.” Nothing wrong with that. But it is what God cursed. So we wonder if the author is foreshadowing here that there’s bad news ahead.
Now here’s where it starts to get sticky. In verses three and four we read, “And it happened in the course of time that Cain brought an offering to the Lord from the fruit of the ground. But Abel brought of the firstlings of his sheep and of their fat.”
If we look first at what Abel brought, we notice it was “of the firstlings.” Those are the firstborn animals. Later in the law God will require the firstborn of everything to be offered to Him. We also see here that Abel brought of their fat portions. In our culture we appreciate non-fat foods, but most other places in the world, even today, have a different view. One time when my husband and I were in Russia, we toured a hospital that invited us to eat hors d’oeuvres. At one point Gary thought he was popping a square of mozzarella cheese into his mouth, but he discovered too late that it was raw fat. So he choked it down, trying to veil his disgust. But to the Russians it was a delicacy of the highest order, and they had offered us their best stuff. That’s exactly how God regarded the fat on animals. When offered to him in sacrifice, it made a most pleasing gift.
Contrast that with the gift Cain brought. The text says simply, “He brought an offering to the Lord from the fruit of the ground.” There’s nothing wrong with bringing grain or produce—the text calls what both brothers brought an “offering,” so it must have fit within the category of “generally allowable gifts.” But there’s a problem here. Where are the firstfruits? We don’t see the emphasis on bringing God the very best. He just brought some of the stuff he grew. Nothing special. It reminds me of a morning when one of the women in our Bible study brought leftover donuts as a joke. Only Cain was serious.
The first ten years of my life, I grew up in the Willamette Valley of Oregon, an incredibly fertile plain with a river running by the house. There was plenty of water and good soil. My dad worked a government job, but to help support his wife and five kids, he had a one-acre garden in addition to a pear orchard and a Christmas tree farm. He was good at it, too. Every year he would set aside the largest, most perfectly formed pears and exhibit them in the state fair. Sometimes his rhubarb was of good enough quality to enter, too. Or an amazingly large squash would sprout up and make it all the way to the judges’ booth. For his display Dad chose only the biggest and the best—the choicest fruit. And afterwards he lined his walls with award ribbons. That’s the quality that God wants from Cain here. You don’t take your leftovers to the Judge. You take the finest. Hebrews 11:4 tells us that “By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain’s. Through this he received approval as righteous, God himself giving approval to his gifts.”
Unfortunately, unlike his brother’s gift, Cain’s offering revealed a lot about his view of God. He didn’t bring anything that cost him anything; he saved the best for himself. And you know what? That’s not good enough for God. So we read in verse four, “And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard.”
Uh-oh. Big brother gets outdone by little brother. Big brother has spent his days working hard in the sin-cursed ground and he expects God to be like a gleaner—to come along after the fields have been harvested and accept what got dropped on the ground. And Cain probably even thinks he’s being generous here. Hey, at least he brought something! But while he has simply put together some veggies, his brother has, like the Hallmark slogan goes, “Cared enough to send the very best.” And God is smart enough to see and reward the difference.
Well, sure enough, when God prefers Abel’s offering, Cain gets upset. We read in verse five, “So Cain was very angry and his face fell.”
But God is also gracious, so he gives Cain a chance to make it right. He initiates a conversation here. We read in verse six, “Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? And why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; its desire is for you, but you must rule it.”
It’s like God is saying, “Don’t worry. It’s not too late.” When we read that Cain’s “face fell,” it’s a lot like how we use that phrase today. Only here it has more the idea of anger behind it than sadness or dejection. But no problem—God makes sure Cain knows he can still offer an acceptable sacrifice. The Lord also warns Cain that he’s in a power struggle with sin and he needs to stop and choose wisely.
If you’ve ever seen the musical “Oklahoma!” you’ve heard the song, “Oh, the Farmer and the Cowhand Should Be Friends.” You’ve seen how the ranch hands and the farmers constantly competed. And that’s certainly true here, multiplied by some sibling rivalry. Cain is probably feeling all sorts of competitive instincts and negative emotions. His kid brother has shown him up, and he’s not going to take it lightly. In my junior year of high school my little sister—a sophomore—and I both played on the varsity soccer team. And at the awards banquet she got the award for “Most Valuable Player.” I got nothing. My little sis was a better soccer player than I was, and now everyone knew it. Was I happy for her, recognizing I could excel in other arenas? Are you kidding? Mostly I was jealous! It’s ugly, but that’s how we often think, isn’t it?
God acknowledges Cain’s jealous rage, and he warns him that sin is crouching.
Last Christmas we gave our daughter a kitten. And for the past year, every morning when we’ve opened our bedroom door, Princess Peaches has come in to join us on the bed. Our favorite game is to move our fingers under the covers, convincing her there’s a mouse under there. And she falls for it every time. So she hides behind my husband’s knee and waits for just the right moment. Then fast as a blink she jumps through the air and pounces on her prey with claws extended. She’s so good at it that we had to have her de-clawed, because sometimes when we thought the game was over, we’d take out our hands and a few minutes later, they’d be bleeding.
Now picture what a bigger feline could do...a lion maybe, or a cougar. It could devour a person in minutes. And the writer here paints that sort of image by personifying sin as a lurking animal, waiting for its prey’s most vulnerable moment for the pounce. Sin lurks here, just waiting for the opportunity to devour Cain.
So what does Cain do? Does he say, “Okay, let me go back and get the biggest apples”? No way. Verse eight reads, “Cain spoke to Abel his brother. And it happened when they were in the field that Cain rose up against Abel his brother and he killed him.”
Can you believe it? He lures him out into the field where no one can witness what’s going to happen and no one will hear the yells for help. And Cain kills his brother in cold blood. His own brother! Instead of mastering sin, he has silenced little “Buddy” for good.
So we’re barely four chapters into the book and we’ve already got a murder mystery. Who did it? The Lord knows and He shows up again. And He does the same thing with Cain that he did when Adam sinned. He asks questions first. That’s always a good idea when somebody’s messed up—give them a chance to confess. In verse nine we read that God asks, “Where is Abel, your brother?”
Well, unlike his father, Adam’s son shows no shame. He starts out with a lie: “I don’t know.” But then he adds a smart-alecky “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Or the actual word order here is “Keeper of my brother, am I?” The word “keeper” here is the same word that described what Abel did. He “kept” sheep. And it’s like Cain is saying, “Am I the keeper of the keeper?” “Am I the shepherd of the shepherd?” It’s a less-than-subtle dig that suggests God is being unreasonable in even asking.
Do you sometimes get this attitude toward God? Do you blame him for stuff that goes wrong when you’ve made bad choices to begin with? Last year I caught Alexandra, then five years old, sucking her thumb, and I told her to stop. And do you know what she said? “Well, God should not have given me an arm with a hand on it.” In other words it’s God’s fault that I’m sucking my thumb! It starts early. We’re all prone to mistrust God—to think He’s really demanding and unreasonable and out to hunt down and slay our happiness. We want to blame him rather than take responsibility for our own sin. Back in the orchard Adam told God he ate the fruit because of “The woman you gave me,” as though God Himself were responsible for Adam’s choice. Now his son acts the same way, times two. Since the first human and the first sin, we’ve had this tendency to blame God. It’s much more comfortable than owning up to our wrongs.
So Cain smarts off and blames God. And what happens next in the Genesis story amazes me. If it were up to me, I’d do lightning right here on the spot. Capital punishment. Show no mercy to this selfish, smart-mouth.
But God—our gracious God—asks another question. Verse ten reads, “And He said, ‘What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground.’” From the ground God had cursed, the ground that Cain had worked, the ground that received Abel’s blood, we see the evidence of Cain’s evil. And here’s the penalty. God says, “And now you are being cursed from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive the blood of your brother from your hand. When you work the ground, it will no longer continue giving its strength to you; you will become a homeless roamer in the land.’”
What? He doesn’t kill him? At this point we expect Cain to say, “Wow. Thanks for not doing to me what I did to my brother. Thanks for not giving me what I deserve.” But nooooooo. What does Cain say? Read verse 13: “Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is greater than I can bear!”
Can you believe it? This guy is clueless. He’s getting mercy and he still thinks he’s being mistreated. He continues in verse 14 with, “Look, you have driven me out today away from the ground, and I must hide myself from your presence; and I will be a homeless roamer in the land, and anyone who finds me will kill me.”
“They’ll kill me!” he complains. Can you imagine? They might want to do to Cain what he did to his brother. How unfair!
Now you might wonder who these people are who are going to kill him. If Cain was the firstborn of Adam and Eve, how could the earth be populated? We’re not really told, but it’s possible that by now Adam and Eve have had a lot of other children, and if so, all of them would be outraged at Cain’s actions—for killing their brother. And we have to figure that if the ground will no longer cooperate to yield produce to Cain, he may have to beg his family members for food. Again, we expect God to say, “How does it feel?” Or “Don’t dish it out if you can’t take it.” Or like the Eagles’ hit, “Get Over It!”
But not this God. Instead, he shows mercy yet again. In verse 15 we read, “So the Lord said to him, ‘No, if anyone kills Cain, vengeance will be taken on him sevenfold.’” If you wonder what sevenfold vengeance is, it may help to know that back then they considered seven the perfect number. It was often associated with completeness. So it’s like God is saying, “I will completely avenge anyone who kills Cain.” When Gary and I went camping back in the eighties, if he’d see a mosquito flying nearby, he’d say, “I’ll kill him to the max in a second without mercy.” Then smash. And although “to the max” is an outdated expression, perhaps it helps us understand what’s being expressed here. It’s as though God is saying, “If anyone messes with you, I’ll avenge your murder to the max.”
Then the text goes on to say, “And the Lord put a mark on Cain, lest anyone who came upon him should harm him.” Now in our world full of street signs, billboards, and store signs, we usually think of a sign as a visual image, perhaps something reminiscent of the Grateful Dead’s “Dire Wolf” like a placard saying, “Don’t Murder Me.” But this word could mean something a little different from that. In Joshua 2:12, when Rahab asked for a sign, she received protection for herself and her family. So the sign could simply be God’s protection. Other signs in the Hebrew Bible included a broad range of options like Noah’s rainbow reminding everyone that God would never again destroy the world with water. Or when Moses asked God for a sign that He would deliver his people, God told him the sign would be that His people would someday serve Him on the mountain where Moses confronted the burning bush.
It’s also been suggested that this could have been a special hairstyle, a mark like a tattoo—even a growling dog, though if you’re going to go there, I think a skunk might be more fitting. That would keep anyone from going near the guy. We aren’t told what the sign was, but we do know its function—to protect the murderer from anyone who might want to injure him.
What? Protect him from injury? Yes, one more time we see God’s grace. The word “murder” has been used in this chapter up until now. But when God promises to protect Cain, we see a different word—he says “lest anyone injure Cain.” In other words, he’s not just protecting Cain from those who would murder him, but from anyone who would beat him up!
So how does the story end? Verse sixteen tells us, “Then Cain departed from the presence of Yahweh and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden.” East of Eden is the direction Adam and Eve went when driven from the orchard. And “Nod” means wandering. So Cain went to the land of wandering—away from the presence of the Lord.
Eve’s miracle baby has caused nothing but heartbreak. And the couple who departed from God’s presence now see their son departing even further from His face.
And that is where all of us would remain without Jesus Christ. Because of Him we are no longer in the process of departing further and further from God. Through the reconciliation brought by the most pleasing sacrifice of all time, we are invited back into fellowship with the Father no matter what we’ve done.
And knowing that should evoke in us a desire to return to Him what Cain should have given—not our leftovers but our best.
What do we give to the God of grace? Do we give him our sleepiest hours or our most productive energy? Do we give him our spare change or do we give generously and sacrificially? Does our offering cost us or is it simply convenient? Do we treat His children with neglect or respect? How deliberate are you in showing how much God means to you by what you give back to him?
It’s Christmastime—a season when we get so frenzied attending company Christmas buffets and hanging the icicles on the house that we lose sight of the greatest Gift ever given. We get all wrapped up in giving gifts to others in honor of His birthday, but like Cain we offer Him—the Reason for the Season—the leftovers. Our leftover time. Some leftover canned goods we didn’t plan to use anyway. A little leftover energy. A few coins of leftover pocket change in the kettle.
So we need to stop. And in the midst of the hustle and bustle, let’s carve out some time to prepare our best, most memorable gift. If it’ll help, consider using the visual reminder of wrapping a box and putting it under the tree as a “sign” of a decision to give God His due.
What does our God of extreme grace really want from us? If we asked the Spirit to tell us His heart’s desire, what would top His Christmas list? What would really please the One who would “rather die than live without us”? No longer does he want animal fat and first fruits. Romans 12:1 and 2 tells us that he wants us—our lives—as living sacrifices. More than anything, the Father wants the love and devotion of each “miracle” child’s whole and undivided heart.
What can I give him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb.
If I were a wise man, I would do my part.
O what can I give Him?
Give Him my heart.