Ever since I became aware enough to consider such things, I have always thought that the first few sentences of the Gospel of John are possibly the most significant sentences ever written in Western civilization. They tie Jesus of Nazareth to the Ancient Hebrew Scriptures, to Greek thought and philosophy, and to the vast boundlessness of eternity in the space-time continuum. If the arrival of Jesus was a historical event, then John connects the cosmic dots about who Jesus was and why he came.
A Word to the Wise
Just before Christmas we said that Mary heard a word from God, quoting the word of God about the Word of God… John said it this way: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it… The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:1-5, 14 NIV)
When Mary said, “Be it unto me according to thy word”, John’s amazing prologue characterizing Jesus as the Word, or the logos, had not yet been written. In this opening paragraph to his gospel, John says that the Word was eternally preexistent, was with God and indeed was God. This Word was the Creator and the source of all life and illumination in the cosmos. John says that the Word came and dwelt among men, who could see its glory.
The Word of the Lord
The concept of men receiving the word of the Lord was fairly common in the Old Testament. God’s Spirit moved among men and imparted His words to the prophets, gave instruction, and prophesied about things to come. (Think: Elijah and the prophets of Baal, or Jonah preaching to Nineveh.) God’s word appeared or was given to men for a task or a season, but it was not an abiding presence on the earth.
For instance, 1 Samuel 3:1 says that “the word of the Lord was scarce in those days”. At other times men like Abraham (Genesis 15:1, “The word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision”) and Moses, who was “commanded by the word of the Lord” (Numbers 3:16, 51) encountered God’s word in life changing ways. The prophets were moved to speak because of it. “The word of the Lord came to Elijah” (1 Kings 18:1) and Zephaniah 1:1 attributes his prophecy to the word of the Lord. There are well over 200 references to the word of God in the Old Testament, so John’s reference to the Word was not unique in Jewish Scripture; but the idea that the Word could become an actual person and dwell among men was entirely foreign to the Hebrew mind and heritage.
Wait, John Claimed What?!
By introducing Christ as the Word, John makes some astounding claims about a man who he knew well– someone he hung out with, traveled with, and observed at close range for at least three years. He walked long hours with Jesus, heard him preach, and saw him in action. If Jesus had been insane or a mere charlatan, John would have known it.
If Jesus had been a failed prophet who was crucified and then disappeared from the scene, then John would have had no reason to write about him… But as we know, John wrote those familiar words in John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
Would John have placed all his hopes on a fraud? Think about those whom you know intimately, the folks you joke with or party with; chances are you know them far too well to equate them with God, or to ever consider actually calling them God… Yet John did exactly that with Jesus. Why do you think he did that? Answer THAT question, and I bet you’ll answer a whole bunch of other ones…
Youngest disciple, did you know where all the twists and turns would go,
And did you have the line of sight to what would come from what you’d write?
Jesus’ loved one, did you think, when struggling with your pen and ink,
That History hung on every word you wrote of what you’d seen and heard?
Out to a thoughtless, careless world, your personal account was hurled:
The words of a crazy, exiled Jew, who claimed that what he’d seen was true!
Could you have known? Could you have seen the phrasing there, in three sixteen,
And you could somehow sense, or see, down corridors of History,
That someday it would come to me, affecting what my life would be?
Some might say you were misled, or somehow addled in your head,
And some with proud disdain despise your testament, and call it lies…
But some would say you have a friend, whose kingdom’s come, and will not end,
Who showed you love as meant to be, by being who He was sent to be!
Jesus’ Beloved, Apostle John, your words live now, and will live on
For us, from what you saw and heard, and captured in your timeless word:
For all the world—for everyone—God gave his only precious son,
That all who seek Him, and believe, will each eternal life receive.
The perfect love that fell on Thee has fallen, too, on me…
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