John 1: Beginnings among beginnings

Sunday morning worship, December 31, 2017

 

Eat heartily this weekend, then join a gym, lose weight, and get in shape. That is one of the most common New Year’s resolutions made by those who make such resolutions.  Statistically, 14% or more of those who sign up for gym memberships do so in January, the most in any month.1 One in six of these commitments will fail by the end of February and 80% will quit within 5 months. Of those who continue going, only half will go at least twice a week or 100 times in a year. Research done by Christianity Today found a similar lack of long-term commitment to Bible reading is found among those to regularly go to church despite the fact that “Reading and studying the Bible are still the activities that have the most statistical influence on growth and spiritual maturity.”2 90% of churchgoers agree “I desire to please and honor Jesus in all that I do,” and 59% agree with the statement: “Throughout the day I find myself thinking about Biblical truths.” Yet 40% of these same people say they read the Bible once or less a month and only 45% say they read the Bible at least a few times a week. I wonder what such a survey among our congregation would reveal.

 

But still, this is the time of year we traditionally look to begin something new. So today we will begin a year of studying the 4 Gospels with the book of John.  And John begins his Gospel talking about the most important of all beginnings, the creation of all we know: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it (1:1-5).” Let’s focus on two phrases from this passage and then move on to another beginning: “In Him was life” and “the darkness has not overcome it.” The Word John is talking about is Jesus Christ, not the written Word we call the Bible. The reason we read the Bible is to learn about Jesus.  If Jesus doesn’t exist and isn’t still alive, then the Bible is simply another worthwhile and helpful book people should read.  But if the story the Bible tells is true and the Word Jesus Christ really was God before Creation began and that same Word Jesus Christ came to earth and lived as we do and if that same Word Jesus Christ died, rose from the dead in bodily form, ascended into the presence of the God with whom He is One, and if that same Word Jesus Christ is coming again to reward and to punish eternally, then the Bible really is the most important book in the entire world.  As such, it is worth reading, studying, and living by. It is the book that teaches us to live in a way such that evil will be unable to overcome us.

 

Living by this book was what John the Baptist represented.  John was the greatest of the Old Testament prophets. Jesus once said of John the Baptist, “Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist (Matthew 11:11).” John lived by the Old Testament prophet’s standard. On the day the Lord God thundered from the mountain as the commandments were being given to Moses and the nation of Israel, the people were frightened.  So they asked God to provide one who hear the voice of the Lord for them and then relay that message (see Exodus 19 & Deuteronomy 18:14-22). That is the definition of a prophet—one who hears the word of the Lord accurately and then relays it to its proper audience. These verses in Deuteronomy 18 also set the standard by which the OT prophets lived: “a prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, is to be put to death (v20).” That means that if what the prophet spoke was from the Lord, what he/she proclaimed would always come true and could be trusted. If what the prophet spoke was something else or came from somewhere else, the prophet should be put to death.  That’s a tough standard to live by.

 

What made John so great and so unique was the blessing given him from birth. Luke 1:44 tells us that Elizabeth who was pregnant with John told Mary who was pregnant with Jesus, “As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.”  This can be true because the angel Gabriel told John’s father Zechariah the priest, John the Baptist “will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born (1:15).”  So when the adult John told his audience and his followers, “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. And I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ I have seen and I testify that this is God’s Chosen One (John 1:32-34),” either what John said was completely true or John faced eternal death for speaking falsely about God.

 

Matthew 5:17-18 show us how the Old Covenant ends and why Jesus alone is able to institute a New Covenant in his blood. It reads, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.” The Apostle John records Jesus’ last words from the cross: “‘It is finished.’ With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit (John 19:30).” Jesus didn’t die in the same manner we die.  He completed His flesh-bound mission then he “released His Spirit (International Standard Version));” “He dismissed His Spirit (The Living Bible);” and “He gave up His Spirit (NIV among many translations).” The Romans confirmed Jesus’ death by piercing “Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water (John 19:34).” It is with His life (the blood) and His death (the water) that Jesus instituted this New Covenant: “This cup is the new covenant in my blood which is poured out for you (Luke 22:20).” In this New Covenant we celebrate each time we take communion, we transition from living primarily by the rules contained in a book, commands to be obeyed, and guidelines to live by even though they are wise, to a personal relationship with a God that transcends book knowledge, to direct contact with a God who defines Himself and both Holy and Love:

·         “I am the Lord, who brought you up out of Egypt to be your God; therefore be holy, because I am holy.”  Leviticus 11:44

·         “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.”  1 John 4:8

The Apostle John tells us here in John 1:17-18, “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.” Did we catch that?  “Jesus is Himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father.” Scripture can’t get much clearer.  Jesus lives in the closest relationship possible with the Father because they are One.  Now Jesus invites us to live in that same close relationship.  Jesus’ atoning death did away with our sin when we accepted His sacrifice in our place.  Jesus died during the Passover feast as the Passover Lamb. Historically, the blood of the Passover lamb which was put “on the sides and tops of the doorframes of the houses” formed a cross which protected the family all night. When the death angel saw the blood, he passed over that house and no destructive plagued touched that house (Exodus 12:1-13). With our sins taken away and our lives preserved, we now stand before God clothed in Jesus’ righteousness. John the Baptist baptized with water for the repentance of our sins, but Jesus baptizes us with His gift of the Holy Spirit (see John 14-15). With the Holy Spirit indwelling us, we are able to live life the way God intends for us to live it.  We have the same tools available to us that Jesus had available to Him.  The only difference is that we get these tools when we decide to accept God’s invitation to live in this close relationship to Him through Jesus’ shed blood.  Jesus lived in this relationship from birth. 

 

Because we enter into this relationship at some point after our birth and because we live in a world populated by sinners who impact our lives before we know right from wrong, we bring our brokenness into our relationship with God through Jesus.  It is this brokenness we consider as we look back over our past and then look forward to opportunities of the New Year, the opportunities for yet another new beginning.  The article I quoted above counsels people to join gyms after February.  The article quoted above states that those who were already members of the gym often resent the influx of new members in January. So they rebuff them until they prove themselves. Similarly, those of us who have gone to church for a long time can influence hopeful newcomers to Christ subtly. Human beings have a deep desire to “fit in.”  If we who have been here a long time and are recognized as leaders have bad habits, newcomers may pick up those bad habits much the same way we say children pick up bad habits from their parents.  Human beings like what we are comfortable with; we resist change.  We don’t like to be threatened with loss of something important to us.  As we prepare for the New Year, remember who killed Jesus and who found new life. Remember we can, do, and should change.  Remember the power of the Holy Spirit is real, that God is a Holy God defining what Love really means.  Remember we can live in the closest of all relationships with God Himself if we truly desire to live there. Whether we make actual resolutions or not, we all need to change if we are to grow.  Look again at those stats.  Do the lives we live accurately reflect the desires we say we have or do we need to change?

 

1  https://www.creditdonkey.com/gym-membership-statistics.html  (all these statistics are taken from this site)

2 http://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2012/september/new-research-less-than-20-of-churchgoers-read-bible-daily.html