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"In the Beginning"

January 2, 2022

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“In the Beginning”

John 1:1-18

January 2, 2022

(Epiphany of the Lord Sunday)

 

Read John 1:1-18

This is the Word of the LORD.

 

This morning, we begin a walk through the Gospel of John.  John’s gospel is different than the other three – Matthew, Mark, and Luke. John’s gospel is organized differently, uses language differently, and approaches the revelation of Jesus Christ, the Messiah, differently.  Having said that, it is important to note that John’s gospel presents the same Jesus as the other three – enriching the picture we have of God’s grace in Jesus.

In order to understand what it is we are going to be reading and why it was written, we turn first towards the end of the book, to John 20:30-31, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book.  But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.”  There is some ambiguity in the translation of this passage and some variants in the Greek text, such that an alternate acceptable reading is, “But these are written so that you may continue to believe and you may continue to have life in his name.”  (The difference between those two readings is one letter in the Greek.)

When we talk about opening the gospel to Carson City and beyond, it means we are sharing the good news we have received, believed, and are living as disciples – followers – and adopted brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ.  We want to encourage one another who believe to continue and deepen our faith, and we pray that God uses us to draw others into a saving relationship with Jesus.  Why would they want that relationship?  Because there is life only in Jesus Christ.  “There is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)

But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.”  Knowing why John was written is important because it will frame the sermon series.  When I started serving here a few years ago, you may recall that we have preached through the Gospel of Mark.  We were looking at the person of Jesus Christ.  I wanted us to have the same foundation: I wanted to spend time looking at the question posed over and over in the first half of Mark: “Who is this?”  Who is this that the spirits obey, the wind and storms obey, that can forgive sins, etc.  It was – and is – important because we are together in Jesus’ name and what God has done for us in Jesus Christ is the core of the gospel we have to share.

Now, in this new year, we are going to look at Jesus as John presented him, so “that through believing you may have life in his name.”  It is not only so that you know more; rather, it is so that you may believe for the first time or continue to believe and have life in his name.  The church has no other good news to offer, it has no other message to proclaim.

The gospel is good news – good news for us and good news to share.  We are looking at the gospel of John because of the relational nature of the experiences John describes.  We are going to see how real people encountered Jesus.  Real people with real lives and real problems and real circumstances – in other words, people just like us – encountered Jesus and their lives were transformed: from despair to hope, from brokenness to redeemed, and from death to life.  How?  In order to explain that miracle, we need to start at the beginning so that we can see the big picture.

Our sermon text is familiar – and not just because we read it the last time we were together on Christmas Eve.  This passage is generally called the “prologue” to the gospel of John.  It is like the overture to a great symphony or musical – you get most of the main themes and a general outline of the movement. It moves:

  • from the transcendent God – the God who is sovereign over all and the creator of all things – the God who is the same God of Deuteronomy 6, “Hear O Israel, that the Lord your God is One –
  • and arrives at the revelation of the incarnate Word of God.  In other words, this Jesus, fully God and fully human, is “God made known.”

Why is this important?  Or, as people will ask in their hearts but not out loud, why is this important to me?  That, friends, is what John addressed in this gospel.  The key phrase here is that those who received him, who believed in his name, “he gave power to become children of God.”  We are going to unpack that a little bit this morning. There are two things going on:

  1. What does it mean to be a child of God?
  2. How does one become a child of God?

 What does it mean to be a child of God?

Being a child of God means that we have a relationship with God.  It is more than a concept, it is a real relationship with the immortal, transcendent God.  It means that the creator of everything knows who you are, knows who I am.  Not only does he know who we are, he cares who we are.

This can be a stumbling block for a lot of people.  How can God know everyone?  How can God care about everyone?

How many people do you know personally?

Now, Carson City is a small town compared to larger cities like Reno, Sacramento – or even a different category than Las Vegas, San Francisco, or Los Angeles.  There, you would have no expectation of knowing everyone – even casually or by sight.  I have been amazed since arriving here how many of you know so many others.  You know their families, their histories, and you have shared experiences.  Yet – and I may be wrong about this because this is my perception and not a word from the Lord – I imagine that it is possible (possible, not inevitable) for all of us to walk through a Costco run and not recognize anyone else we know.

Regardless, you get my point: in the big picture of things, we actually know an incredibly small number of people.  God knows everyone.  

More than that, how well do you know anyone? How many people do you care for – intimately?

Some, like a spouse or a best friend or a sibling, we know well.  But the truth is that there are plenty of things that spouses do not share with each other, there are plenty of times when friends or siblings surprise us – showing that we do not know each other as well as we sometimes think.

If you were to draw a series of circles like the ripples of a pond, how many people would be in the smallest circle closest to you?  Would there be ten?  Five?  Again, you get my point: we actually have intimate concern about an incredibly small number of people.  God knows everyone intimately.

More than that, how many of us know ourselves very well?

How often do we live in denial, hoping that everything is ok and hoping that everyone else will think we are ok?

It is overwhelming then to think about this God – this God who is bigger than all creation, bigger than our sphere of influence and experience, bigger than all the people we know put together – that same God knows and cares for us.

The Bible teaches us that God does know you and does know me.  God knows each one of us better than our best friends, our spouses, or even ourselves.  The Psalmist says it this way:

"For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.  I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.  Wonderful are your works; that I know very well.  My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.  Your eyes beheld my unformed substance.  In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed.  How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them!"

God knows you personally, intimately, deeply, and loves you fully.  He knows our frame, he knows our foibles, he knows our failings.

For me, this was kind of a profound realization or re-discovery: God knows me.  I look around and wonder how I even would be a blip on God’s radar.  But I am not anonymous to him.  I am not invisible to him.  What I do and who I am matters to God – why?  God only knows; but it is clear that God does care.

Being a child of God means that I realize and accept that God cares for me.  But it is more than that, too.  Having the power to become a child of God means that I have been given the gift of living in relationship with this God who knows me better than I know myself.

Living irelationship with God is a gift I have received with mixed reaction.  On the one hand, I am absolutely and eternally grateful for the life that I have been given.  On the other hand, I am absolutely and seemingly-eternally struggling with what it means to live under the authority of the sovereign God.  Oh, how I want to think of myself as God’s peer and God’s equal.  There are so many things I would like to hold onto for myself.  There are so many times when I do what I want even when I know that God would have me do other; there are so many times when I do what I think is best for me when God has called me to reach out to help someone else.

Living as a child of God means that we engage in the struggle to receive him, to believe on his name in a daily, hourly, moment-by-moment basis.  So often in that struggle, we fail.

God does not leave us in failure.  He does not leave us alone in the struggle.  He meets us in it.  This, too, is a little overwhelming – because it says that God not only knows us, he wants us to know him.  He wants us to know his heart.

When I say God meets us in the struggle, that is exactly what happened when the Word became flesh and dwelt among us in Jesus Christ.  He showed us the Father’s heart even as he lived that daily, hourly, moment-by-moment struggle with us and on our behalf.  God sent his only Son that whosoever should believe in him would not perish but have eternal life.

Being a child of God means that we are living in relationship with God who wants us to know him.  When we live in that relationship with God, our eyes are open to see ourselves how he sees us.  We can grow into the creation He intended us to be: righteous, pure, holy, fulfilled.  It means we are living eternally even now.  The things we do today matter because we are participating in building the kingdom we ultimately inherit as co-heirs with Christ.

How exciting is that?  That is good news more than we can keep bottled up – it is news to share!

How does one become a child of God?

So, what do we do?  Becoming a child of God is a gift of grace.  It is something we receive as a gift.  Receive him, believe on his name, and rejoice in being born of God. There is a conviction and commitment involved.

In other words, it is a relationship God seeks; a relationship where God is God and we are his children.  John makes it clear that there is no other option.  If you look again at verse 13, it talks about being born as children of God, “not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.”  John was making clear that becoming a child of God is not something we can earn, we can accomplish, or we can take for granted.  It is an action God takes for us.  He then went on to list the three most common misconceptions people held.

First: children of God are not born of blood; that is, made by heredity or inheritance.

John was referring to the Jews – God’s chosen and covenant people – who took for granted their status with God because they were born of Jewish parents.

The same is true for us.  We did not biologically evolve to become children of God.  It is not something that you could identify under a microscope in our DNA markings.  In short, just because your family goes to church, it does not mean that you have received Jesus or believed on his name.  As your pastor, my relationship with God does not mean that you have a relationship with God; just because I like you does not mean everything is good with God.  It is important that you answer for yourself the question Jesus asked his disciples: Who do you say I am?  Knowing the right answer and living the right answer are two different things.  Receiving Jesus as Savior is grace; obeying and following Jesus as Lord is sanctification.  Children of God are not born of blood.

Second, children of God are not made through the will of the flesh; that is, human common sense, natural instinct, or by satisfying the flesh.

Indulgence, self-satisfaction and self-fulfillment do not make children of God.  This is the flaw, the lie, the danger of the prosperity gospel to which so many are tempted and drawn.  People want life to work in ways pleasing to themselves.  They are the center of their own story and the center of their own world.  They flock to preachers who will tell them that “God wants to make you happy and fill your life with good and pleasurable things.”

The problem is that God’s blessings are presented as being fulfillment of the will of the flesh.  That approach underplays or ignores the consequences of our sin.  It underplays or ignores the fact that being a Christian will often put you at odds with the values of the world.  Look back to our text because God was clear: “the Word was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him.  He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him.”  What the world sees as wisdom, God sees as folly.  What the world sees as strength, God sees as weakness.  And the reverse is true, too; what the world sees as folly (namely, the cross), is the wisdom of God, and what the world sees as weakness is the power of God.  Children of God are not made through the will of the flesh.

Third, children of God are not made through the will of man; as in, you cannot decide that you are going to be a child of God and force your way in on your own terms.

Many people think that if they are good enough, God will have to let them into heaven. Friends, adoption as children of God is a matter of grace, it is a gift, it is something that has been provided to us, not something we have earned.  Further, heaven will be God’s heaven, where the glory of God is fully revealed and only those things that fit within God’s holy and perfect will are going to be there.  There will be no rebellion, no sin, no competition for sovereignty or authority.  Our wills completely submitted to God’s perfect will – and his will is greater and provides for things so much better than we can imagine anyway.

None of the ways of men make children of God.  John says we are born Children of God by the will of God through believing in Jesus’ name.  We receive him as Lord and Savior.  We follow him so that he can show us the Father’s heart.  We trust him because he is trustworthy.  We have a relationship with him because he knows and cares for us and invites us to know and care for him.

We are looking at the gospel of John because of the relational nature of the experiences John describes.  We are going to see how real people encountered Jesus. Real people with real lives and real problems and real circumstances – in other words, people just like us – encountered Jesus and their lives were transformed: from despair to hope, from brokenness to redeemed, and from death to life.  That is the good news we are called to open to Carson City and beyond.

Communion

One of the things people do when they know and care for each other is to share a meal together.  God is no different.  Jesus would later gather his disciples around the table and break bread with them.  He invited them, he invites us.  It is a table Jesus has prepared, it is an invitation he has issued because he knows you and cares for you; it is an invitation for you to know and care for him.  It is life he is offering.  How will you respond to his call to you?

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.  From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.  No one has ever seen God.  It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Questions:

  1. As we enter the new year, what is your prayer for God to do with you?  For this congregation?  For this community?
  2. How would you answer Jesus’ question, “Who do you say I am?”  And, how would you answer if he asked you the follow-up, “And how have you seen that make a difference in the life I have given you?”
  3. How would you share the good news with someone who does not know Jesus?