The Word (John 1:1-18), Sunday, March 13, 2011
First Sunday of Lent
First Sunday of Church-wide Emphasis on Culture Making
What are we referring to when we say “the word?”
When I hear the phrase word of God, I think of the Bible. The entire Bible. Is that what we mean?
The word of God – are we talking about scripture? On Ash Wednesday service I suggested that disciples of Jesus Christ all agree we should read the Bible because it is authoritative in our lives. We should read it, listen, and live by what it says. But, when we say the word do we mean the Bible, Genesis to Revelation?
Or, referring to the word as Christians, do we mean the Gospel?
In the outstanding study guide Heather has written for our church-wide emphasis, she quoted Anglican scholar N.T. Wright. He says the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) give the story of the life of Jesus Christ. Gospel is the proclamation of the saving work of Jesus.
Is that the word of God? In that phrase are we talking about the details of the life of Jesus? Or more specifically, are we talking about the saving work of Jesus on the cross and in the resurrection?
“In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” Here ‘Word’ does not refer to the scriptures and Word does not refer to something Jesus did; his saving work on behalf of people. In John 1:1, Word means Jesus. Word is capitalized, as if a person’s name in the New Revised Standard Version, the Homan Christian Standard Bible, the English Standard Version, the New King James Version; and the NIV. Bible translators who disagree often are unanimous on this even though in Greek word, ‘logos,’ is not capitalized. Scholars of all different stripes know who John means. The word is Jesus.
Yet, that does not mean we look at Word as simply another name for him. Word does mean Jesus. The word of God is the Bible. And the Bible does introduce the Gospel. Bible-Gospel-Jesus each speaks when we listen to the Word. So, everyone who can get there hands on a Bible can hear the Gospel and meet Jesus.
The Word changed history. For people who believe it, the word changes the future. No person anywhere is able to live as if the word never happened. The Word creates a culture – a way of being human and of being human in relation others, in relation to society, and to creation. To see how, we put five questions to the Word.
First, what does the Word assume about the world? It assumes that the world is lost, far from God, and unable to make its back to God.
Jesus said to a crowd that gathered for dinner in Zacchaeus’ home that he, Jesus, came to seek out and save the lost (Luke 19:10). He purpose was finding and saving the lost because the lost need to be saved.
The writer of John says, he wrote the fourth Gospel so that through reading we come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, and through believing have life in Jesus’ name (John 20:31). Without Jesus, life is not possible. We are sinners cutoff from God. Only in hearing the story and believing in Jesus can we move from death to life.
One morning Jesus was slipped away from the group for pre-dawn time alone with God. Mobs of people led by his new disciple, Peter, found him. They were diseased people, tired and desperate and full of pain that blinded them to the fact that Jesus had healed late into the previous night and now needed solitude. The crowd couldn’t see how they were intruding, either on Jesus or on the home of Peter’s Mother-in-law where the healings took place. All they could see was Jesus as the only hope they had for anything.
Did he get mad? No. He said to Peter, “Let us go on to neighboring towns so that I might preach the message their also; for that is what I came to do” (Mark 1:38).
Jesus came to seek out and save. The gospel was written so readers would believe in Jesus and be saved. Jesus came to preach to people the Gospel of forgiveness of sins. What does the Word assume about the world? The Word assumes that the world is hopelessly sinful and the only salvation from eternal death comes from Jesus.
What does the Word assume about the way the world should be?
To all who believed, John 1:12 tells us, Jesus gave power to be sons and daughters of God.
We know John 3:16. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life.”
We listen as Jesus says, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth and the truth will make you free” (John 8:31b-32).
The word assumes that we should be sons and daughters of God who have the freedom of Christ as we spend eternity with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Victims of abuse needs to hear this. Abuse happens because we are lost in sin. When a husband strikes a wife it is abuse. When orphans go hungry it is abuse. When preachers thunder about certain people groups, how they are hell-bound; that is spiritual abuse. When governments manipulate the poor in their country or in other countries and cater to wealthy business men it is absolutely abuse.
If in your life, you have felt victimized or abused, or if you have been riled with passion on behalf of an individual who has been abused, then hear what the Word assumes about the way the world should be. This includes the way your life should be. The Word assumes you should be a child of God who as a relationship of spiritual intimacy with God. The Word assumes God desires for you to be with Him for eternity. The Word wants you to be free.
With that in mind, what does the Word make possible?
The Word comes before all that is; before the earth, before human culture, before the Bible, and before all that we see. In our text this morning, John 1, verse 3, we read, “All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.” The Word makes existence possible.
The word is also the source of life. We read this earlier, John 1:4. “In him was life, and the life was the light of all people.” Elsewhere in scripture we see that the Son of God – Jesus – is the totality. Colossians says, “He himself is before all things and in Him all things hold together” (1:17).
The word makes life possible. The Word makes existence possible. And in John 1:12, from today’s reading, “To all who received him, he gave power to become children of God.” The Word makes relationship with God possible, and not just any relationship. It is a family relationship.
What does the Word of God render impossible?
Again look at John’s prologue, the Gospel of John, 1:1-18. The light of the Word shines in the darkness and darkness cannot overcome it. The Word makes it impossible for sin to claim victory over the human heart. The Word makes it impossible for Satan to impose His will on humanity. Evil does not win. Sin has been vanquished. Death will be no more.
Some may live with the mistaken notion that God and Satan are polar opposites, two sides of the same coin, rivals. Lies all. Not only is God completely superior to Satan, the two aren’t even comparable. What’s more, Satan has already been defeated. When Jesus died on the cross, Satan was snuffed out.
I recently read of a missionary couple that several years ago was serving in another country in a rain forest climate. Where they lived, anacondas – snakes that exceed 6 feet in length – roam freely. One day, an anaconda came right into their kitchen. The wife, as wives sometimes do, went to ask her husband to take of this unfortunate intrusion. Only she couldn’t ask him because he already had run out the front door. She quickly followed. They found a villager, explained the problem, and he went in with a machete.
A few moments later he emerged smiling, severed snake head in hand. The deed was done, he proclaimed. But then he warned them. The snake’s body doesn’t know it is dead yet. It’s blood, flowing through the 5½ feet that remained, would cause the body to thrash around for a couple of hours.[i]
Satan is like that headless, dead snake. He’s thrashing around, making a mess, not completely aware that he is dead and has been since Jesus came. The Word makes darkness impossible. The Word makes victory for Satan and annihilation by sin impossible.
The Word assumes the world is lost. The Word assumes we people should be in relationship with God. The Word made flesh, Jesus, makes that relationship possible. The Word makes Satan’s chances at victory impossible.
What new culture is created by the Word?
I believe the answer to this final question is church! I don’t mean HillSong Church or Mount Carmel Baptist Church or any other specific individual church. I don’t mean a denomination like the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. I don’t mean a wider communion, like the Baptist World Alliance or the World Wide Anglican Communion.
The church is the new culture created by the Word. Church means all believers everywhere. Some have called this the church universal or the invisible church. It includes all who truly receive Jesus as Savior and acknowledge Him as Lord; all who worship Jesus and are baptized in his name and in the name of the Father and the Holy Spirit. The church created by the Word, with Jesus as its head, includes Orthodox, Protestants, Catholics, Coptics, and us – Evangelicals. The church is seen at work in the world, when the poor are fed, the lost hear the Gospel the captives are released, people love one another in Jesus’ name, and God is worshiped in Spirit and in truth.
Some may say the culture created by the Word is the Kingdom of God. I decided not to answer the question that way because the Kingdom has always existed. Jesus did not come to establish the Kingdom but to reveal it. We live in the Kingdom when we follow Jesus. We come to the Kingdom by way of Jesus and usually we meet Jesus in the church (either literally in a building like ours, or when the church goes out in the world to share Jesus).
The Kingdom is our destination. The Church is the cultural worldview created in us when we live in the Word and the Spirit of Christ resides in us.
To conclude then, I go back to Jesus-Bible-Gospel. To live in the cultural word created by the Word, receive Jesus, worship Jesus, and follow Jesus. To know how to do all of that, read the Bible, starting with the four gospels. Read and be filled with the words of the four gospels. To share the culture of the Word, be prepared to share the Gospel with unchurched people when the opportunity comes.
God loves us. Jesus died for us, to take away our sins. When we put our faith in Jesus, we are filled with the Holy Spirit and adopted as sons and daughters of God.
As we share, we remember who the Word is and what the Word does. And, we invite others into the world the Word creates. So we have our culture, a way of living, the culture of the Word.
[i] Carolyn Arends, “Satan’s a Goner, Christianity Today, February 2011, p.54.