"In the Beginning" Elder Rob Scanland
January 7, 2024 Speaker: Elder Rob Scanland
Passage: Genesis 1:1-3, John 1:1-18
January 7, 2024 Sermon
“In the Beginning”
Introduction and Prayer
Let me begin by introducing myself, I am Rob Scanland. I am an Elder in this Church, although not currently on Session. I also serve as a member of our church’s Mission Committee. Please join me this morning as we begin with a word of prayer: Dear God thank you for gathering us this morning to worship you. Thank you for each of those, you have called, to be before this congregation over the past ten months and will be calling in the months ahead. We have heard your voice through them and have been comforted and blessed. Thank you for Pastor Ian and his family, for your call to them and for preparing the way from the beginning. Be with the Hodge family as they endeavor to finish strong at the Lemon Cove Community Church and bring them safely here in February when they make their move. Be with me and with us this morning. Be with each of those gathered here, some physically, some virtually, all joined by your Holy Spirit. Be our strength to do those things which you are calling us to do in the year ahead. I will close with the prayer offered in Psalms 19 verse 14 “Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O LORD, for you are our rock and you are our redeemer.” Amen.
Happy New Year! May 2024 be filled with the promises of the Advent Season; Hope, Joy, Peace and Love.
This past Monday was January 1st, 2024. That day has come to represent a time to transition from the past “old” year to the start, the beginning of the “new” year. At the end of the year, we typically characterized it as an old guy with a long white beard. The new year as a baby with its life stretching out ahead. This past year many of us can fully appreciate that in that one year we went from young and vibrant to old, tired, and ready for a change. Well on that happy note let’s reflect back on 2023 here at the First Presbyterian Church of Carson City, Nevada.
In the 2022 Annual Report, Pastor Bob set out five vision or emphases for 2023. They were:
1) Prayer; 2) Youth Participation; 3) Composition and creative arts; 4) Increasing mission participation; and 5) Deepening the walk of discipleship. Let’s reflect on these items and what God has done within our midst. Pastor Bob went home to be with the Lord on March 1st. Several commented that we got to experience what it was like to be the disciples when Jesus left this earth those many year ago. We have been prepared, during their time with us, and now it was time to put that training into action and to “Open the Gospel to Carson City and Beyond”.
This past year has seen a reawakening of intentional, concerted prayer here, within Christ’s body. There is the Pre-Worship Prayer Time on Sunday at 9:30 AM in the room by the nursery; Praying with the Elders following Sunday Service at the altar, and the Monday evening 5:30 PM Priority Prayer Group in the Library. God’s people in praise and thanksgiving for all our many blessings. Thanks to Elders Dan Skinkis, Bob Vibe and to all those who are a faithful part of this ministry.
We had gathered some momentum for increased youth participation over the last couple years. This past year that focus and need was confirmed and reflected in an increased resolve to make progress in this area in the future. This vision helped to focus the recent Pastor search process and helped us pick the candidate that God has called.
Composition and creative arts: encouraging and inviting participation of offering gifts in music, the word and artistic expression giving glory to God. This past year God helped to fortify those who have shared their gifts for years and brought up so many more for the first time to glorify God. This is demonstrated again this morning in the installation of Elders and Deacons. Thank you each and every one.
Mission participation remains strong as we continue to be a congregation that does mission, prays for, and financially supports missions and missionaries. We have four new Mission Ambassadors this year, thank you Debbie, Cathy, Sharon, and Cheryl.
Lastly and maybe most importantly: Deepening the walk of discipleship. This emphasis has been reflected in all of the other vision areas. Pastor Bob was an advocate for discipleship, Kyle Hamilton in her sermon titled “Love and Obedience” on Dec. 24th spoke about discipleship and practical ways to deepen our walk. Pastor Ian will continue to help us all in this endeavor.
It has been a challenging, difficult, and trying year, and we have all seen God at work and have been encouraged and strengthened by the journey.
Here is a little background on today’s sermon topic. When Nina Sattley called me a month ago and asked if I would consider preaching again, I will admit I might have been less than enthusiastic. As you all know, we are given a choice of doing something of our own choosing or doing what has been previously determined to be the scripture and sermon title for the day. I asked what was the “previously determined” sermon title and Nina said “In the Beginning.” My reluctance and apprehension were immediately swept away. The scriptures for today were all about the beginnings, the creation of all things in Genesis and then in the New Testament Book of John, the Creator and our Savior. Today we will go from Creation to Re-creation with the Son of Man, Christ Jesus.
A month ago I knew that Pastor Ian was going to be preaching on December 31st, but did not know what scripture he planned to use or what his topic would be. Last Sunday we heard Pastor Ian preach from the fourth chapter of John. It was about Jesus’s encounter with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well . The sermon title was “Living Water” and in chapter 4, verse 14 Jesus says, “The water that I will give will become in them(us) a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” All that earth can provide is not sufficient to fill the human heart. But the blessing which Christ provides not only fill the heart, but they are too great for any heart to contain. In a poem by George Herbert he writes:
The whole wide world is not enough
To fill the heart’s three corners
But yet it craveth still;
Only the Trinity that made it can
Suffice the vast, triangled heart of man.
The last time Dave Berger was in the pulpit he made a comment that really resonated with me and it was: “Preparing a sermon is like doing a really in-depth, self-directed (with the help of the Holy Spirit) Bible study.” So that was what I tried to do and this morning will share that Bible study and my journey of discerning ad learning with you.
In preparation for today’s message, I would like cite my references and give credit where credit is due. This included: The New Revised Standard Version of God’s word; the “Believer’s Bible Commentary by William MacDonald”; Barclay’s Daily Study Bible as found within the website StudyLight.org; to each person who has filled the pulpit over the past ten months; and finally with fond memories of Pastor Bob, because his words, videos and teachings live on in each of us and will continue to inspire and strengthen us in the months and years ahead.
The WORD of God
Let’s read God’s word from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, found in the pew racks:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
He 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. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.
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. (John testified to him and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me’ ”) From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 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.”
THIS IS THE WORD OF THE LORD.
Response; THANKS BE TO GOD
The Gospel According to John
There has been much discussion over the millenniums about who wrote it and when it was written? Let’s get right beyond that: It was written by the Apostle John, written in Ephesus, best guess between A.D. 85 and 95.
Clement of Alexandria recounts that late in John’s long life, the Apostle was asked by close friends who came to him at Ephesus, to write a Gospel that would supplement the Synoptic (seen together) Gospels. Under the influence of the Spirit of God, John thus composed a “spiritual” Gospel. John’s emphasis was on Christ’s words and the deeper meaning of the “signs”. John builds the Gospel around seven public miracles, or signs. One marked feature of John is the occurrence of the number seven and its multiples. The ideas of perfection and completion attach to this number throughout Scripture. In this Gospel the Holy Spirit perfects and completes the revelation of God in the Person of Jesus Christ. The style and vocabulary of this Gospel are unique. The sentences are short and simple. They are Hebrew in thought although Greek in language. The vocabulary is the most limited of all the Gospels but the most profound in meaning. More on that in just a moment. The Gospel of John is one of the favorite books of the Bible, if not the most favorite of mature and devout Christians. Near the end of the Gospel, John specifically tells us that his book is evangelistic – “But these are written (seven of the miracles Jesus performed) 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.” John 20:31
The first chapter of the Fourth Gospel is described as being one of the greatest adventures of religious thought ever achieved by the mind of man. I would add with considerable help!
Ephesus, A.D. 85-95
The early Church in Ephesus and the community that was in the process of being evangelized was predominantly Greek. There were some Jews, some Jewish Christians, but they were a small minority. The Apostle John recognized he needed to address not only those of Jewish heritage but the Gentile majority as well. These were two very different peoples, with very different historic and cultural backgrounds.
To take but one outstanding example, the Greeks had never heard of the Messiah. The very center of Jewish expectation, the coming of the Messiah, was an idea that was quite alien to the Greeks. The very category in which the Jewish Christians conceived and presented Jesus meant nothing to them. Here then was the problem--how was Christianity to be presented to the Greek world?
The task of the Christian church was to create in the Greek world a predisposition to receive the Christian message. As E. J. Goodspeed put it, the question was, "Must a Greek who was interested in Christianity be routed through Jewish Messianic ideas and through Jewish ways of thinking, or could some new approach be found which would speak out of his background to his mind and heart?" The problem was how to present Christianity in such a way that a Greek would understand.
How could he find a way to present Christianity to these Greeks in a way that they would welcome and understand? Suddenly the solution flashed upon him. In both Greek and Jewish thought there existed the conception of the word. Here was something which could be worked out to meet the double world of Greek/Jew. Here was something which belonged to the heritage of both races and that both could understand.
The Jewish background of a word:
(i) To the Jew a word was far more than a mere sound; it was something which had an independent existence and which actually did things. As Professor John Paterson has put it: "The spoken word to the Hebrew was fearfully alive.... It was a unit of energy charged with power. It flies like a bullet to its billet (target)." For that very reason the Hebrew was sparing of words. Hebrew speech has fewer than 10,000; Greek speech has 200,000.
- ii) Of that general idea of the power of words, the Old Testament is full of examples.
(iii) There came into Hebrew religious life something which greatly accentuated the development of this idea of the word of God. For a hundred years and more before the coming of Jesus Hebrew was a forgotten language. The Old Testament was written in Hebrew but the Jews no longer knew the language. The scholars knew it, but not the ordinary people. They spoke a development of Hebrew called Aramaic which is to Hebrew somewhat as modern English is to Anglo-Saxon. Since that was so, the Scriptures of the Old Testament had to be translated into this language that the people could understand, and these translations were called the Targums. In the synagogue the scriptures were read in the original Hebrew, but then they were translated into Aramaic and Targums were used as the translations.
(iv) At this stage we must look more fully at something we already began to look at in the introduction. The Greek term for word is Logos; but Logos does not only mean word; it also means reason. For John, and for all the great thinkers who made use of this idea, these two meanings were always closely intertwined. Whenever they used Logos the twin ideas of the Word of God and the Reason of God were in their minds.
So when John was searching for a way in which he could commend Christianity he found in his own faith and in the record of his own people the idea of the word, the ordinary word which is in itself not merely a sound, but a dynamic thing, the word of God by which God created the world, the word of the Targums which expressed the very idea of the action of God. So John said: "If you wish to see that word of God, if you wish to see the creative power of God, if you wish to see that word which brought the world into existence and which gives light and life to every man, look at Jesus Christ. In him the word of God came among you."
The Greek Background of a word:
We began by seeing that John's problem was not that of presenting Christianity to the Jewish world, but of presenting it to the Greek world. How then did this idea of the word fit into Greek thought? It was already there waiting to be used. In Greek thought the idea of the word began away back about 560 B.C., and, strangely enough, in Ephesus where the Fourth Gospel was written.
In 560 B.C. there was an Ephesian philosopher called Heraclitus whose basic idea was that everything is in a state of flux. Everything was changing from day to day and from moment to moment. His famous illustration was that it was impossible to step twice into the same river. You step into a river; you step out; you step in again; but you do not step into the same river, for the water has flowed on and it is a different river. To Heraclitus everything was like that, everything was in a constantly changing state of flux. But if that be so, why was life not complete chaos? How can there be any sense in a world where there was constant flux and change?
The answer of Heraclitus was: all this change and flux was not haphazard; it was controlled and ordered, following a continuous pattern all the time; and that which controlled the pattern was the Logos, the word, the reason of God. To Heraclitus, the Logos was the principle of order under which the universe continued to exist. Heraclitus went further. He held that not only was there a pattern in the physical world; there was also a pattern in the world of events. He held that nothing moved with aimless feet; in all life and in all the events of life there was a purpose, a plan and a design. And what was it that controlled events? Once again, the answer was Logos. We go nowhere by accident, wherever we go God has a plan…
Greek thought knew all about the Logos; it saw in the Logos the creating and guiding and directing power of God, the power which made the universe and kept it going. So John came to the Greeks and said: "For centuries you have been thinking and writing and dreaming about the Logos, the power which made the world, the power which keeps the order of the world, the power by which men think and reason and know, the power by which men come into contact with God. Jesus is that Logos come down to earth." "The word," said John, "became flesh." We could put it another way--"The Mind of God became a person."
Jew and Greek a word in common:
Slowly the Jews and Greeks had thought their way to the conception of the Logos, the Mind of God which made the world and makes sense of it. So John went out to Jews and Greeks to tell them that in Jesus Christ this creating, illuminating, controlling, sustaining mind of God had come to earth. He came to tell them that men need no longer guess and grope; all that they had to do was to look at Jesus and see the Mind of God.
In the Beginning was the Word
John begins his Gospel by speaking about the Word. As we have just discussed this was John and the Holy Spirit speaking to an audience that included Jew, Greek and Gentile, each hearing and understanding in their own tradition. This was a trademark of the Holy Spirit as we recall from the first Pentecost. The Word about which John is speaking is not a unit of speech but a person and that person is the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God. By coming into the world, Christ has perfectly revealed to us what God is like. By dying for us on the cross, He has told us how much God loves us. Thus Christ is God’s living Word to man, the expression of God’s thoughts, his actions, his reason.
Let’s read again the first four verses of John’s Gospel with this understanding: “In the beginning was Jesus, and Jesus was with God and Jesus was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.”
The Bible teaches that there is one God and that there are three persons in the Godhead- Father, Son and Holy Spirit. All three are God. It is the first of many clear statements in John’s Gospel that Jesus Christ is God.
Verse 2 would appear to be a mere repetition of what has been said in Verse 1, but actually it is not. This verse teaches that Christ’s personality and deity were without beginning. He did not become a person for the first time as the Babe of Bethlehem. Nor did He somehow become a god after His resurrection. He is God from all eternity.
“All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.” He (the Trinity) created all things. This includes mankind, the animals, the universe, the angels, the seen and the unseen. If a thing was made He made it. Our response to all He made should be to honor, respect, steward, and cherish it.
“What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.”
He was and is the source of life. When we were born, we received physical life. When we are born- again, filled with the Holy Spirit, we received spiritual life. Both come from Him. The same One who gave us life is also the “light of all people”. He provides the guidance and direction necessary for man. It is one thing to exist, but quite another to know how to live, to know the true purpose of life, and to know the way to heaven. The same One who gave us life is the One who provides us with light for the pathway we travel.
Verse 5 “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”
The world was and remains a place of darkness. A place where in general men neither knew God or wanted to know Him. Into this darkness Jesus came - a light shining in a dark place. “and the darkness did not overcome it.” Man’s rejection and enmity (hostility towards Him) did not prevent the true light from shining and continuing to shine.
Those are the first five verses of John’s Gospel! I would suggest, based on my limited understanding and virtual lack of training in Bible studies, that these are some of the most profound and meaningful verses in God’s word or should it be Word.
Announcing the coming of the Messiah
“There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.”
These verses refer to John the Baptist. His mission was to announce the coming of Christ and to tell the people to get ready to receive Him. He pointed men to Jesus and not to himself. Our job as followers of Jesus is to do the same, to point people to Jesus, to show them the way to the door which when opened by the Holy Spirit will lead to life and to life everlasting.
The Son of God’s First Advent
“The true light, which enlightened everyone, was coming into the world. He 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.”
By the coming of Jesus, the true and genuine light, illuminated the path for everyone. This is not to say every man has received some inward knowledge about who Christ was. Neither does it mean that all men have heard about Jesus at one time or another. We are still commanded to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.” What it does mean is that the “Light” shines on all people, without regard for nationality, race or color. It also means that by shining on all men, Jesus has revealed to us our true character, in darkness and needing a Savior.
In verse 10 and 11 it says “He 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.”
Jesus had brought the whole world into being and was its rightful Owner. Instead of recognizing Him as Creator, men thought he was just another man like themselves. They treated Him, and still do, like a stranger and an outcast. It is particularly poignant that the Jewish people, God’s chosen people, who Jesus chose to return to and be born into, who he told that he was their long promised Messiah, would not receive Him.
Verse 12 “But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born , not of blood or the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.”
To become a child of God we must believe in the Lord Jesus, be “re-created’, filled with the Holy Spirit, born again. The verse clearly outlines the three ways this re-creation does not take place: 1) not of Blood; 2) the will of the flesh or; 3) the will of man. You are not a child of God because you were born to Christian parents, although many of us hoped and believe that to be the case. It is not. By the will of the flesh, no, we must believe, but beyond that it is not in our power to save ourselves. Or by the will of man, a man does not have the power to save another man. God is the only one with the power to produce our new birth.
In closing I want to read John verses 14-18: “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. (John the Baptist testified to him and cried out, “This was he whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ ”) From his fullness we all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 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.”
When men saw Jesus, they saw God. They heard God speak. They felt God’s love and tenderness. God’s thoughts and attitudes toward mankind, the Word have been fully declared by Christ Jesus.