Summary: This sermon attempts to demonstrate the importance, meaning and significance of the incarantion for Christian life.
John 1.1-18: What if God was One of Us?
In J.B. Phillip’s New Testament Christianity, a senior angel is showing a very young angel around the splendours of the universe. They view the whirling galaxies and blazing suns, and then flit across the infinite distances of space until at last they enter one particular galaxy of 500 billion stars.
As the two of them drew near to the star which we call our sun and to its circling planets, the senior angel pointed to a small and rather insignificant sphere turning slowly on its axis. It looked as dull as a tennis-ball to the little angel, whose mind was filled with the size and glory of what he had seen.
“I want you to watch that one particularly,” said the senior angel, pointing with his finger.
“Well, it looks very small and rather dirty to me,” said the little angel. “What’s special about that one?” …
To the little angel, though, earth did not seem so impressive. He listened in stunned disbelief as the senior angel told him that this planet, small and insignificant and not overly clean, was the renowned Visited Planet.
“Do you mean that our great and glorious Prince … went down in Person to this fifth-rate little ball? Why should He do a thing like that?” …
The little angel’s face wrinkled in disgust. “Do you mean to tell me,” he said, “that He stooped so low as to become one of those creeping, crawling creatures of that floating ball?”
“I do, and I don’t think He would like you to call them ‘creeping, crawling creatures’ in that tone of voice. For, strange as it may seem to us, He loves them. He went down to visit them to lift them up to become like Him.”
The little angel looked blank. Such a thought was almost beyond his comprehension.
That God became man is probably just as perplexing to angels as it is to us – but that is exactly what we are confronted with in John 1.1-18.
There is so much in this passage could be covered, since it like an overture to an opera as it previews the themes of the entire Gospel: witness, glory, life, faith, light, truth, and Christ himself. Most of all it proclaims to us in language powerful, precise and poetic: that Jesus the Word is God.
1. Jesus the Christ is the pre-incarnate Word of God (vv. 1-5)
Before I was a Christian, I went with a friend to see the musical Jesus Christ Superstar. During the song performed by Angry Anderson [Aussie version of Yule Brynner] playing Herod where he scandalously mocks Jesus, he stops for a moments and pauses, and wiping his face in confusion he says aside to the audience, “He thinks he’s God.” With that witty remark, not in the script, the entire audience (myself included) erupted in huge bouts of laugher. Jesus thought he was God – what a fool!
The idea that Jesus is God is a concept no less bazaar in our own day that it was in John’s day. It was certainly a sticking point to the Jewish people who John wants to dialogue with. The Arrian’s of the 4th century advocated that Jesus was not God and this precipitated what was arguably the most crucial theological battle ever waged for the heart and mind of the church. When Muslims overran Asia Minor they converted Christian churches into mosques, they carved this inscription onto the ransacked churches: “God did not beget and is not begotten.” However offensive and divisive as it has been, the truth that Jesus is God is what we are confronted by here in this opening verse. Or is it? Some would argue that it doesn’t say Jesus is God at all. There are certain quasi-Christian groups, modern day Arrians, who maintain that Jesus was not God, he was merely a god.
How I would love to go into the finer exegetical intricacies of John 1.1 and discuss the usage of predicative nominatives and ‘Colson’s Rule’ – but at the risk of boring you to death I shall resist the temptation. Let me just make four brief points:
(1) The word ‘was’ is in the imperfect tense in Greek, meaning, that the Word always was God. Ever since the beginning the Word was God and there never was a time when he was not God.
(2) If John wanted to say that the word was merely ‘divine’ or ‘a god’ he could have used word theios instead of theos.
(3) The Word performs activities such as creation and salvation which are exclusively the prerogative of God.
(4) Now keep in mind what the passage is not saying. It is not saying that God is the Word in the sense that A = B. Rather what it is saying is all that is true of God is also true of Jesus. In one sense they share an identity but in another sense they are also separate entities. I like the NEB translation: ‘what God was, the Word was.’