A Pastoral Application of John 1:1-18

This will compliment my exegesis of the text, which I posted last week. Click here to read it.

I hope this will offer some encouragement and joy to you as you read and ponder, with an open Bible next to you.

Grace in Christ,

-Justin

An Eternal Person Created Everything

John’s Gospel begins with a prologue of raw divine revelation. Just as Genesis begins the entire Old Testament with “In the beginning,” so John boldly begins his Gospel with the same declaration. This is a revelation of no one less than God. This is serious business—it’s divine business. When Jesus was dying, he cried out “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me” (Matt. 27:46 HCSB). His quotation of Psalm 22:1 would have stirred his hearers to think of the entire Psalm, just as John’s use of Genesis 1:1 connects his readers with the entire creation narrative.

The author here would have us make no mistakes about who Jesus was and is—“the Word was God,” and also, “all things were made through him” (John 1:1b, 1:3a ESV). The one who is the Word is an eternal person, and he was there with God in the beginning of all things. We see here that an eternal person created everything including you and me. That person, we find out a little further down, is Jesus, the Son of the Father (John 1:14).

The Word has Been Arriving into His World

            This world seems to be under a terrible curse. Eight years ago we saw 250,000 people die in a tsunami, nations are in perpetual war, each year there is extinction of numerous, irreplaceable species; and so we wonder how a God of love could be any part of it all. The Church often speaks with contradictory voices when suffering and death visit us. People are desperate for help. It is into this maelstrom that John speaks: “In him was life, and the life was the light of men” (1:4). This is light from life for humans who languish in darkness and death. It is light that shines in our darkness, shining so that it cannot be overcome by the darkness (1:5).

This is John’s way of telling us that the eternal person who created everything was also filtering into our world long before his Incarnation—filtering down through the depths of darkness like the morning sun reaching the bottom of some great lake. John the Baptist was used by God to announce the coming of the light into the world. In this historical figure, we latch onto the historicity of John’s prologue. This is not a myth created by some wine-soaked Greek hill-dweller. No, John the Baptist stepped into the spotlight of redemptive history to speak; his voice reaching not only the tympanic membranes of a couple hundred Israelites, but he being dead yet speaks to hundreds of generations since. He bears witness about the light of Jesus, the light that has been illuminating all people throughout history. The redemptive historical narrative of Israel reveals his true identity and mission. He was coming into his broken world, a world filled with human darkness—with his coming there is hope for humankind and there is a divine purpose behind every evil thing, (most clearly seen in the cross).

The author of this prologue makes clear that “the true light . . . was coming into the world” (1:9). There is conflict here, yet again, like in v. 5 where we see darkness that would overcome the light of life. In vv. 10-11, the irony is stated outright—the world that he made was ignorant of him, though like the daylight that covers our physical planet, he covers our metaphysical world with his presence. Before his Incarnation, the Word of life had been revealed in the world of Gentiles through the light of conscience, yet he had come especially to the Hebrew people. Among all of this history, John highlights the mercy of God in vv. 12-13: by the gracious will of God, many received the Word and became his children.

The Word as a Man… For Us

            By the time John brings us to v. 14, we have seen that God’s light had been infiltrating the world of human darkness and granting new birth to everyone who received him. Now, however, we see a new stage of God’s work among humans. He becomes one of us. The Word came into the darkness, no longer as a light in Torah, or in conscience, or in the book of nature, but in the flesh. This is the unique Son of the Father; his sonship indicates a potential adoption for each one of us. This is the good news the Church possesses, and this is the gospel that we need in order to continue lives of hopefulness and joy in a world of cascading sadness. God did not remain distant, cold, or disinterested. His presence and coming into our world has been happening in greater and greater movements since the days of our first parents. His is a posture of concern, care, and indeed, divine love for a race of mutilated, sin-slain creatures.

Often the most difficult thing for any of us is to look at those who are badly injured by some tragedy. People who have some deformity go through life watching the silent reactions of everyone around them, feeling isolated and alone. When God looked at his human creature, the disfigurement was far more wrenching than any missing limb or skin rash that we have ever seen. In his omniscience, God was looking at pure unholiness. We had become what he hates. In the mythological tradition, this might be the point in the plot when God utters his disgust and closes the book on the world. In the objective history of what he actually has done, it is the opposite. While he does execute wrath, he yet remembers mercy all along the way.

“And we have seen his glory” (1:14b), and his glory includes his being “full of grace and truth” (1:14c). As he closes out his prologue, John declares world peace for all who will receive him and believe in his name. For this one to come, full of grace for the graceless, and full of truth for those caught in lies is the greatest act of love. He has been pouring out his fullness ever since, and the grace which replaces previous grace is most clearly seen as he lays down his perfect life in the stead of us, his people. Jesus fulfilled all of the previous graces God had given the world. Jesus is the ambassador of God to humankind, and the representative of humankind to God. He is the perfect mediator.

And all of this reveals the very heart of God—the place John ends out his beginning. Jesus is in the very heart of God, in the Father’s κόλπον (closest embrace). The Son is in the place of greatest intimacy with God, and he is there for you. He is your intercessor. He is here with us. He is the one who never leaves us or forsakes us. He is our great Shepherd, the one who loves unconditionally, and into our world he came so that we might touch God and be healed. He is the Word of God with us. He is the Word of God for us in the abiding darkness of this world, a darkness that cannot overcome his light.

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