Summary: Jesus, the true light, came into the world--but no one recognized Him for who He truly was, nor was He received. But for all who have received Him, we now go out as Lights in His name, that others would recognize Jesus in us and receive Him who is coming!
In 1929, The Saturday Evening Post ran an article on Albert Einstein. It was an interview with this brilliant man. And in that interview, he said this: “As a child I received instruction both in the Bible and in the Talmud. I am a Jew,” he said, “but I am enthralled by the luminous figure of the Nazarene…” Einstein went on to say, “No one can read the Gospels without feeling the actual presence of Jesus. His personality pulsates in every word. No myth is filled with such life.”
We would, no doubt, agree with these thoughts of Einstein toward Jesus, that “luminous figure of the Nazarene.” When we read the Gospels, the Words on the page, we recognize the actual pres-ence of Jesus. “His personality pulsates in every word.” We might stop and marvel at Einstein’s confession of Christ, recognizing God in the flesh…except, Einstein was not a Christian. In fact, in another interview he said regarding his religious beliefs: “I believe in Spinoza’s [pantheistic] god, who reveals himself in the harmony of all that exists, not in a God who concerns himself with the fate and the doings of mankind.”
It just amazes me that such a brilliant mind can, with one breath, acknowledge something pro-found in Jesus. Yet with the next breath deny this life-giving, enlightening, divine Word-made-flesh, whose express purpose for coming was to concern Himself with the fate of mankind! But it turns out that from a 20th Century Jewish man to many countless 1st Century Jewish people, there’s really not much difference.
“The true light,”—that luminous figure—“that gives light to everyone, was coming into the world,” John tells us. “He was in the world, and the world was created through him, and yet the world did not recognize him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.” All throughout the Gospels we see this very reality playing out. He came to His own people, but they did not receive Him. All throughout Scripture, in fact, it happens over and over again; it’s the same old story. God’s people just don’t receive Him, or His Word; or, they don’t recognize Him when He is acting and working and speaking. And here it is again. “He was in the world…but His own people did not receive Him.”
Now we might be tempted to think highly of ourselves as if, “Had we been there, we would have known. We would have recognized this man from Nazareth as the Son of God. We would have received Him, cared for Him, followed Him out of the darkness.” But we have the benefit of hindsight on our side. We can see the whole story played out for us; we can read it for ourselves. But the first century people of Judea didn’t have such a luxury.
Their understanding of Scripture prevented them from seeing the greater plan. From their per-spective, they had no reason to even consider that God would embody Himself as a little baby, growing up in a backwater town. In their worldview, they had no reason to think the one through Whom all things were made would make a living as a carpenter-turned-traveling-rabbi. From all they knew, they had absolutely no reason to expect the Messiah to be the Light of Life walking in the dark alleyways of sinful lives. So, they were absolutely clueless when they asked, “Who is this who commands even the winds and seas, and they obey him?” They really had no idea when they asked, “Who is this who speaks with such authority?” They were sincere when they asked, “Why does this man speak like this…Who can forgive sins but God alone?” And so, like John said, “He was in the world…and yet the world did not recognize him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.”
But it’s not as if this caught God off guard by all this—He knew precisely how humanity would respond. It’s not as if the angels thought the world would stop everything to welcome its Savior—only if they had not announced the news to Shepherds in the fields nearby would it have been a relatively “silent night.” And, it’s not as if Jesus expected everyone to know who He was—which is why He could say with such compassion and concern on the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” No, our Lord was not caught off guard by the lack of a welcome party at His arrival. In fact, Jesus came into the world precisely for the purpose of NOT being recognized or received, at first—in order that we WOULD recognize Him and receive Him, now. What does THAT mean? Let me explain through a parable.
Soren Kierkegaard, the Danish philosopher, told the story of a prince in search of a maiden suitable to be his queen. He searched and searched, but found no one to his liking. One day, while running an errand for his father in a local village, the prince passed through the poor section of town. Looking out the window of his carriage, his eyes fell upon a beautiful peasant girl. Over the next several days, he passed by this young, poor girl, and he quickly became enamored with her—convinced that she was “the one.”