Sunday, September 06, 2015

Sermon: John 1: 1-18 Receiving the Word

How do you summarise a person? If I were to ask you to describe your best friend, how would you do it? What would you say? What would you focus on? How would you decide what to share? You might talk about their strengths, their wit, humour, dependability. You might talk about how they have been such a good friend to you.

In lots of different situations, we describe people all the time. Perhaps you’ve been asked to write a reference when someone is applying for a job. Or you’ve tried to matchmake two of your friends. Or you introduce a friend to someone else. Those are all hopefully happy occasions. But we also try to summarise a person in the event of a bereavement. As we prepare for a funeral, and write the tribute, I have a series of questions I’ll ask - the person’s hobbies, work life, family, special memories, and their early years - where they were born, grew up, went to school.

As the apostle John sits down to write his Gospel, he doesn’t start with Jesus’ beginning to preach (as Mark does). He doesn’t even go back as far as Jesus’ birth (as Matthew and Luke do). John goes back even further, right back to the very beginning. Not the beginning of Jesus’ life, but the beginning of everything. You remember how Genesis starts? ‘In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth...’ (Gen 1:1) John goes to that very same moment, and gives us the same opening words: ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.’ (1:1)

John begins at the beginning, with the Word who already existed, who was with God, and who was God. This Word, this logos is God’s self-expression, his wisdom, his speaking out. Now, sometimes it might feel as if you’re speaking, but no one is listening. Your words have no power at all. It’s not like that with God. Genesis tells us that God spoke creation into being - let there be light, there was light. ‘All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.’ It was by the word of the Lord all things were made. As God spoke, the Word made them. How powerful this word is! Life, and light are in him. The light of the Word shines.

Just as you’re taking in the wonder of this Word, John shifts the focus for a moment. It’s as if you’re transported in time from creation to about 2000 years ago. He tells us about this man, sent by God, whose name was John. Not the writer of the gospel, but John the Baptist. Now, why does he do that? Well, look at what he says about this John: ‘He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.’ (1:7-8)

Twice we’re told that John came ‘to bear witness.’ That’s a courtroom word. A witness tells the court what they have heard and seen. No speculation, no surmising, just the facts. So imagine you saw a robbery happening on your way home from church today. You would be asked what you saw, not why you think the person did it. Your evidence would be used to bring a verdict, a decision.

It’s the very same with John. Why was he sent, to bear witness? ‘That all might believe through him.’ John tells us about the light, about this Word, so that all might believe. Evidence leads to a decision, to belief, to faith. Yet sometimes, people refuse to believe, no matter how much evidence they’re given.

Look at verse 9. ‘The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him.’ The Word who made the world wasn’t known by them. What a tragedy. The one who gave them everything they had, yet they didn’t even recognise him, like a child who wants to take everything a parent gives, without spending any time with the parent, not wanting to be seen with them.

That’s all the more so in verse 11: ‘He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.’ Like the child who disowns their parent. Or a town that doesn’t turn up for the open top bus welcome home party for a cup winner. What a tragedy.

And yet there’s this wonderful promise. ‘But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born... of God.’ The only way to become a child of God is to be born of God - it’s not about blood (your family is Christian), or the will of the flesh (you work really hard to achieve it), or the will of man (you decide to be a child of God by yourself). You become a child of God by being born of God. You have the right to become a child of God by believing in the Word, this true light.
If you were listening closely to our readings today, you’ll have noticed that the passage from the end of John’s gospel matches this one from the start. John says he could have written about lots of things that Jesus did, but ‘these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.’

Evidence leads to believing, and believing leads to life. It’s the patten we see in this first chapter. We hear John the Baptist’s witness, we believe in Jesus, and we become children of God. It’s the pattern John has for this whole gospel.

Look at verse 14, perhaps the best known verse from our passage today. ‘And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.’

This is John’s summary of Jesus Christ. The Word, God in the beginning, who made everything, this Word became flesh. The everlasting word took on our flesh - God with skin on, as the Sunday school child once said - stepped into time, into the universe he made and sustains. This Word dwelt among us. He moved into the neighbourhood.

But do you know what, that sounds a bit too posh. The word John uses is tabernacled. It’s the word used for the tent of God in the Old Testament as the Israelites moved out of Egypt at the Passover, traipsed through the wilderness and eventually made it to the promised land. The ark of the covenant, God’s presence with them, was in this tent, this tabernacle. John says that the Word pitched his tent among us. Imagine the President of France moved into one of the tents in the Calais refugee camp. Even that doesn’t show the scale of the difference.

The Word dwelt among us, John says, ‘and we have seen his glory.’ Over the autumn, we’ll be listening to John’s eyewitness testimony. He wrote it down for you, the words Jesus said, the things Jesus did. He has already told us his aim - so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

How do you summarise a person? John’s word is glory - the glory of God in our human flesh. The Word become one of us. My prayer is that we too will see Jesus’ glory, and meet him, perhaps for the first time, to believe in him, and experience that fullness of life. Will you receive him? Will you welcome him in as you believe in him? It’s the only way to find life, to be welcomed in to be a child of God, to share what Jesus had before the creation of the world. Receive him today, and find life in his name.

This sermon was preached in Aghavea Parish Church on Sunday 6th September 2015.

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