Jesus is the Word of God
September 16th, 2018 sermon
By John Ulrich, Senior Pastor
The Gospel of John takes us beyond the common thinking that Jesus is just a nice guy, to a vast array of pictures, images, and metaphors that describe who Jesus really is. The prologue (John 1:1-18) gives eighteen different titles for Jesus as it presents many of the themes to John’s Gospel, using amazing literary techniques and structure. Named by some as the Shakespeare of the New Testament under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, John uses the simplest language to express the most profound thoughts. It is a book “where a child could wade or an elephant could swim.” Today, we look at the first depiction that John gives of Jesus: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1)
Three Things That Jesus Does as the Word of God (John 1:1-18)
- God’s Word Creates. In the Old Testament, the Word of God, his spoken expression, was what God used to create the world (Ps. 33:6, Gen.1:3,6,9+). John is saying that Jesus is fully God (Jn.1:17), and as the Word, the second person of the Trinity, Jesus creates (Jn.1:3, Col.1:16-17).
- God’s Word Saves. As described in Ps. 107, God hears the prayers of the needy and saves/rescues them. Jesus, the Word, came into the world, not recognized or received for who he was as God. For those who did receive/believe in him, Jesus pardoned from God’s just wrath for their sin (Jn.3:18) and gave the “right to become children of God” (Jn.1:9-13).
- God’s Word Reveals. God in the Old Testament had been sending his Word to Israel for 1400 years with commands, stories, poems, songs, letters, and even through the prophets. Now to more fully reveal the character and heart of God, John tells us that God the Son, the actual Word, came to earth in human flesh (Jn.1:14) to make himself known even further in God’s wondrous loving grace and truth (Jn.1:17).
It was not until God actually SENT the Word, His Son, into the world, that it accomplished God’s purpose to show us what he was really like. Words are only good when they are spoken. That same God sends us, his disciples, (just like he sent his Son) out to a world in confusion that does not know what God is like. We have a chance to show them the heart of God in the heart of Jesus. We can speak the Word because Jesus is the Word.
- Who is Jesus to you….really! In your experience. Not just what you have been told.
- What did Pastor John mean when he said, “Once we see Jesus, really see him, we will never look at God the same again. Ever.”
- What does it mean to be “saved”? How has Jesus saved you..spiritually, physically, emotionally, mentally, etc.)
- Do you have words that you remember when you need rescuing?
- Can you share what God through Jesus’ spirit has been revealing to you recently about him or about himself? Have you shared any words of truth with others recently?
- How does God reveal things/truths to you?
- What do our words reveal about our hearts? (II Tim.3:16-17)
Good Morning! We are starting a new sermon series today from the Gospel of John called “More than just a nice guy.” It’s about John Maiden. Just kidding. It’s about Jesus. Before I tell you about the series, I want to tell you where that name came from.
Many of you know we have a baptism service coming up on September 30th. Kelley and I were having coffee with a wonderful gal who had indicated to us that she might want to be baptized as a Christ follower in that service. As we were talking to her about her faith, we said “Well, what do you know about Jesus?” She thought about it for a minute, and she said “He was a nice guy.” We said “Is that all you know?” She said “Maybe.” I thought we have a lot to talk about! Now as it turns out she knew a lot more about Jesus than she let on. She had some great observations and questions. She just didn’t know how to put all the pieces together. But as Kelley and I talked about it, it occurred to us that for many people in our culture today that’s most of what they know about Jesus. That’s the way they think of him: He was a nice guy.
In the meantime, I was studying the Gospel of John for this series. I have to say I was overwhelmed by the variety of ways that John depicts Jesus. The other three gospels kind of take one main image or depiction of Jesus, like the King of Israel or the Servant of God or the Savior of the Whole world. They develop that one image as they go through his story. But John gives this plethora, this deluge of depictions and titles and metaphors, to describe who Jesus is.
And yes, Jesus is a nice guy in John. Absolutely, he’s the guy who rescues a woman caught in sin who is about to be stoned. He’s a nice guy! But it struck me that as we read John, he’s a lot, lot more than that. Think of some of the images or metaphors that you may have heard to describe Jesus – the good shepherd, the light of the world, the bread of life, the true vine, the way, the truth and the life. All of these come from John’s gospel And many, many more. In fact, I counted it up the other day. Do you know how many titles are given to Jesus in the first chapter of John alone? Eighteen! Eighteen different titles! Some of these are going to be familiar, but some of the images and titles that John gives us in his gospel really challenge our stereotypes about Jesus, whether that’s Jesus as a nice guy or whatever our stereotypes may be. In chapter 2, Jesus is the guy who brings the alcohol to the party. Let me tell you something: As Baptists, we didn’t know what to do with that story when I was growing up. The Presbyterians were fine with it, but we Baptists were confused! But in the next story, Jesus is the Judge, the guy who makes a whip and drives people out of the temple. So much for Jesus as just a nice guy! Now the Baptists are fine, because we’re great at angry religion, but the Presbyterians are confused! He’s not what we expect!
Later on, Jesus is the guy who rubs elbows with the outcasts. He’ll be the guy who is godly, but breaks Sabbath Law. He’ll be the uneducated guy who schools the leading Rabbi of Israel. He’ll be the guy who deliberately provokes his own death, so he can be the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. All these images.
We’re going to cover John 1-6 before we get to Advent this year. As we go through this series, we’re going to get to know Jesus a lot better than we do. He’s going to upset our stereotypes in some ways. We will find out that he’s much more than just a nice guy, And we’ll be amazed!
We’re going to start today by looking at what is called the Prologue to John’s gospel, the first 18 verses. It’s like a semi-poetic introduction to the book and to many of the themes that John will pick up in his gospel. It’s amazing literature! As we look at the Prologue, we’ll see the first image, the first metaphor, the first depiction that John gives us of Jesus and that is that he is “the Word of God.”
As we look at that today, here’s what we’re going to do. First, we’re going to take a couple of minutes to appreciate John’s gospel. Then secondly, we will see three things that Jesus does as the Word of God. Then, we will close by talking about how Jesus’ role as the Word should affect our lives.
We’re going to start by reading this amazing Prologue to the gospel of John. This is an amazing, beautiful description of who Jesus is and what he came to do. So let me encourage you to just quiet your heart, maybe close your eyes if you want or read along and listen to how John introduces us to Jesus Christ.
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 men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it. There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. John testifies concerning him. He cries out, saying, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’ ”
From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another. For the law was given through Moses; but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.
– John 1:1-18
So before we look at Jesus as the Word, let’s just start by taking a moment to appreciate the amazing piece of literature that we have before us. In some ways, the prologue of John’s gospel is the Holy of Holies of Scripture, both theologically and literarily. So especially for those of you like my daughter, Elisabeth, who appreciate good literature let me just point out that John’s Gospel is Amazing.
John’s gospel is an incredible piece of literature. You may have heard me say before that John is the Shakespeare of the New Testament, and it’s true. Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, John has written a literary masterpiece.
John has the simplest Greek of the New Testament, simplest words, simplest grammar, but John’s gospel probably has the most profound thought in all the New Testament. John uses simple images to convey profound truths.
John also has finesse. He has all these little word-plays he uses all throughout the book, puns. You know what puns are, right? Like “What do you do with Chemists when they die? Barium.” Anyway, John has all these little word-plays that we don’t even see in English. For example, just in the passage we just read, in verse 5, John says “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not – some translations say “understood it” – other translations say “overcome it.” That’s because the word John uses can mean both. It means to take down like to write down, to understand and to take down like to wrestle down, to overcome and John is saying darkness can’t do either with Jesus’ light. In verse 11, he says “Jesus came to that (thing) which was his own the world he owned and he changes the grammar slightly but uses the same word and says “His own (people) did not receive him.” He’s playing with words. In fact, even the word “word” is a play on words. Because in the beginning was the word God spoke and the Word Jesus, right? These things are all throughout the book of John.
John’s ability to lay things out is amazing. If you were here a few weeks ago when we were studying the book of Proverbs, we talked about a thing called a chiasm. That’s when the writer writes things in mirror image, like A-B-B-A, like people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. That’s a chiasm. “Care-know-know-care.” A-B-B-A. The first two verses of the Prologue in the Greek are a perfect 12 point Chiasm: ABCDEF-FEDCBA. I don’t even know how you do that!
The whole prologue, all 18 verses, are written in a five point Chiasm. The whole book is written with that kind of literary precision. Now my point with all this is just this: John is an amazing book. It’s profound. There is so much going on here at so many different levels that there is no way I can do it justice. One scholar said John is like a pool in which a child can wade or an elephant can swim. As we go through this series, I’ll be the child! Even in the passage that we are looking at today, I can probably just about quote it, but I think I only understand about half of what’s there! It’s very humbling! So what we’re going to do today is not go through this verse by verse. There’s just too much to cover that way! Rather I’m going to take that image of Jesus as the Word of God, which is the first image John gives us of Jesus and I think is also the most comprehensive, and I’m going to show you what that means: three things that Jesus does as God’s Word.
This image of the word of God is a word-play. It’s a metaphor that comes from the Old Testament. In the Old Testament, the word of God did three things. Jesus, as the Word in this passage, does the same three things. So the first thing we learn about the word is this:
God’s Word Creates
In the Old Testament, the word of God, his spoken expression, was what God used to create the world. Psalm 33:6 says “By the word of the Lord, the heavens were made, the starry host by the breath of his mouth.” If you read the creation account in Genesis, how is it that God creates? He speaks, right? “And God said, let there be light and God said let the land produce vegetation and God said let us make man in our image.” Over and over again eight times in the creation account, it says “and God said” and then things are created. The means by which God created was the word. In this passage, Jesus, who is the Word, creates. Look at vv.1-5, John says this:
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 men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.
– John 1:1-5
Now think with me for a minute. If you were reading this for the first time, especially if you were a Jew from John’s time who had always thought of God as one God who existed in one person, this would be a very challenging passage! You’re reading it going: In the beginning was the Word. “OK yeah, I can see that, because God spoke the word before anything was formed, so the word was in the beginning.” And the Word was with God. “OK, I can still see that it was with him before he spoke it and the Word was God.” You would be going “Wait. What??? How can the Word be God? I thought God was a person. How can the Word be God? Is the Word a person?” Then you would keep reading “He was with God in the beginning.” OK, I guess the word is a person. Then:
Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. Then John goes on to talk about light and darkness.
– John 1:3
It’s all very confusing. It’s kind of like a riddle, isn’t it? You’ve got all these allusions to the Creation story in Genesis, with the beginning and the Word and light and darkness and life. John is clearly playing off that. But then you have the Word, who is God and is with God at the same time. How do you pull that off? It can be confusing!
When we met with the young lady who was thinking about baptism that I mentioned earlier, she said “Jesus was a nice guy.” I said “Is that all?” And she said “Well, he died for our sins, right?” Good! Then she said “Wait. Was Jesus God? Because there’s Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, right? But there’s just one God. How does that work?” This is kind of confusing. Let me try and clear it up a little and say that John is saying two things about Jesus:
- He is God. John makes that very clear in verse 1. Look at the end there: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” The word, who verse 17 tells us is Jesus, was God. Fully God. Fully divine. Everything that God was the Word was. People have tried to minimize that they have mis-translated it to fit other views of Jesus. But let me just assure you, you can look at in Greek, or English, or however you want: this passage is saying exactly what it seems to be saying. Jesus, the Word, was fully God. He made all things. He was never created. That means there was never a time when he didn’t exist. He was with God from the beginning, and he was God. We believe in one God, who exists eternally in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Jesus is as much God as the Father is God. So John is saying (1) that Jesus is God and:
- John is saying that as the Word Jesus Creates: Jesus is the means by which God created the world. The Bible teaches this – Colossians 1:16 says “For by him (Jesus) all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him.” As God as the Word, as the second person of the Trinity, Jesus creates. Just like in the Old Testament, the word of God created so John tells us Jesus the Word creates. The Word creates.
OK now from there, John, the writer of our gospel, goes on. He talks about John the Baptist. We don’t have time to look at John the Baptist today. John Maiden will look at him next week, when we finish chapter 1. It’s going to get confusing around here, because there’s too many Johns. There’s John the writer of John, John the Baptist, John Ulrich and John Maiden. It’s going to get confusing! All I can promise is that every week someone named John will be preaching about someone named John. (1) God’s Word Creates.
God’s Word Saves
In the Old Testament, God not only created by his word he also rescued by his word. Several passages say this, but one of the most important is Psalm 107. Psalm 107 is a whole chapter (40 plus verses) written about all the different things God rescues his people from. It covers everything from storms, like the hurricane we just went through, to oppression, to our own foolishness, to imprisonment, to sickness. It describes all these predicaments that God’s people have faced. Then in the middle of the Psalm it says this:
Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he saved them from their distress. 20 He sent forth his word and healed them; he rescued them from the grave.
– Psalm 107:19-20
Words can rescue. They can save us from peril. Surely, you saw the coverage of the Hurricane this weekend. Think of some of those people at New Berne or Wilmington that were in a terrible predicament, Trapped in the flooding and the storm, wondering if they were going to make it until the right person with the right authority spoke the word and said “Go get ‘em.” Words can rescue. They can save.
God’s words can save. In the Old Testament, the same God who created the world would respond to his people’s need and speak. Seas were parted, and water would flow in the desert, and city walls would crumble, and the mouths of lions would be shut. God’s Word saved his people. Jesus, as God’s Word, saves his people. Look at what John says in verses 10-12:
He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.
– John 1:10-12
John points out that the Word who had created the world came to the very world he created, that which was his own and the world did not recognize him. He even came to his own people, the people he had called into existence as a nation and nurtured and rescued, and they did not receive him for who he was.
Then John points out that the Word saves. He says “Yet to all who received him meaning to all that believed in his name he gave the right to become children of God.” He rescued us. Through his death, he saved us from God’s just wrath. Not only did he rescue us from Hell, but he gave us the rights, the status of being God’s favored children! He saved us!
You could be saved today. You could be rescued, just like those people in New Berne and Wilmington were rescued. Maybe you’ve never trusted in Jesus, but you could be saved from God’s wrath and made his child today. You don’t have to understand everything about who Jesus is and how the Spiritual life works. Just like those people in New Berne didn’t have to know everything about who came for them or what kind of watercraft they were using. All they had to do was put their full weight on that boat, and the boat would take them where they needed to go. It’s like that with Jesus. John says just believe in his name. Just believe that he is God’s Word who can save you and ask him to do that. God’s Word saves.
So (1) God’s Word Creates (2) God’s Word Saves. Now the last thing God’s word does is this:
God’s Word Reveals
In the Old Testament God revealed himself through the vehicle of his word. He would point this out for people to see. God revealed himself in a lot of ways. The Old Testament contains a lot of stories and songs and poems and commands, and all of them are equally inspired and equally true. But when God really wanted to emphasize that something was directly coming from him, when the Old Testament really wanted people to sit up and take notice that God was speaking directly, it would use a certain phrase. It would say “The Word of the Lord came to so and so.” The Word of the Lord came to Isaiah. The word of the Lord came to Jeremiah. The word of the Lord came to Jonah.
When you saw those words, you knew that what you were hearing was a direct expression of God’s heart. This wasn’t a story where you had to find the meaning. When you heard “The word of the Lord came to so and so,” God was revealing himself. He was showing you exactly who he was and how he felt and what you should do. God revealed himself through his word.
Words reveal. Our words reveal. Jesus said “Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.” He said that we would be evaluated by our idle words, because our idle words reveal our true character. Words reveal. They reveal our heart. Words like “I love you,” words like “I’m sorry,” words like “I’m angry,” these are powerful words that reveal our heart. Words reveal. We may try to spin them. We may try to hide them, but words were meant to reveal and, ultimately, they will expose what’s in our heart.
God had been sending his words. He had been speaking to Israel for 1,400 years by the time of Christ. He had been sending them stories and commands and prophecies and even love letters to show Israel what he was truly like, to show what his heart was, to show how much he loved them and how he designed them to live and what he wanted them to say “yes” to and what he wanted them to fight against. He sent them words to show them how to live as people who were made in his image. He gave them words. He gave them commands and stories and songs and love letters to reveal himself.
But Israel always got it wrong. They were fallen people, like we are. So they spent half their time disobeying God, because they didn’t think He really had their best interest at heart. Even when they did try to obey him, it became this legalistic, judgmental, letter-of-the-law obedience that was never God’s heart. They couldn’t seem to get it right. So God did something amazing, something we would never expect. The Word of the Lord came to us. Look at what John says:
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
– John 1:14
The Word became flesh. Remember this is the Word of God. This is the one who created all things. This is the one who was at God’s side, never separated from eternity past, the one who was everything that God was, the second Person of the Trinity. He left the Father and became flesh.
John literally says he tabernacled, he put up his tent, among us. He didn’t come near us. He didn’t just appear to be one of us. He didn’t just take on a human shell, but keep the right to exercise his divine abilities. He became one of us, truly one of us, not with our sin nature, but with our human limitations. One of us, like Adam, was one of us. He knew what it was like to be hungry, to be weak, to be surprised, to have to depend on God to heal. God sent his Word, the true Word, to live among us as one of us. Now why would he do that? Look at:
We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
– John 1:14
For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, look at this! has made him known.
– John 1:17-18
Why on earth would God do that? Why would he send the Word? One reason: Words reveal. God wanted to reveal who he really was and his heart for us. Written words didn’t do it. They couldn’t! They had written words through Moses, but, like I said, they never got it right. They were either ignoring God’s commands or following the letter of God’s commands, while ignoring the Spirit of them. So God sent his one and only Son, the one who was at his Father’s side, the one who knew exactly what he was like because he was God. He sent him to us.
Because Jesus came, our understanding of God, our understanding of what God loves and hates, our understanding of what God thinks is right and wrong, our understanding of who he pities and who he loves and what makes him angry and what he judges and the lengths he will go to to rescue his people, our understanding of all that has fundamentally changed.
It will never be the same again. It can’t. Because Words reveal. And once we see Jesus, really see him, we will never look at God the same again. Ever. Words reveal. And everything that Jesus does in the book of John, everything from bringing the wine to the party, to rubbing elbows with outcasts, to working on the Sabbath, to provoking his own death so that he could be the lamb of God and die for your sins, everything Jesus does reveals the character of God to us. The word became flesh. No man has seen God at any time. But God the one and only, who is at the Father’s side, he has declared him! God’s Word creates (2). God’s word saves. (3) God’s word reveals.
Now what do we do with this? Well hopefully, you can see that there are a million applications. We could draw from this passage everything from worshipping Jesus, because he is God, to thanking him for creation, to sharing his salvation, to looking at him to see what God is truly like. This passage speaks on multiple levels, and there are so many ways we could apply this to our hearts and lives.
As I was thinking about the passage this week, my attention was drawn to this: Words are only good when they are spoken or written. They have to be released to accomplish their purpose. They have to be shared. Jesus always had the ability to create. He always had the ability to save. He was always a perfect representation of God’s heart. But it wasn’t until God sent the Word, that it accomplished his purpose.
Words have to be sent. God sent his Son into the world to declare him, to show us what God was really like. Think how different your view of God is because Jesus came. It will never be the same. We didn’t know what God was like until we saw Jesus. Listen, that same God sends us out just like he sent his Son. We are surrounded by a world that is in confusion. They don’t know what God is like. They don’t know what he loves and hates. They don’t know how good he is, how wonderful his plans are.
But we have the chance, as we speak the word about Jesus, as we live the life he has called us to, as we show them the heart of God in the heart of Jesus, we have the chance to begin to do for them what Jesus did for us. We have the chance to reveal God and to lead them to a relationship with Jesus, with a God who creates, and saves, and reveals. We can speak the Word, because Jesus is the Word.