May 5, 2019 at First Presbyterian Church of Unionville (PCA)
[John 1:1-5 ESV]1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
We begin now the first in a series of sermons from the Gospel of John. And perhaps in a later sermon I will discuss those things which are commonly discussed when a new book is begun. That is, some want to know more about the author, the date of its writing, where it written, and to whom it was written. These are important things. And I expect that we will get to them in due time. But more important than that preliminary information is the words of the text itself. And so I will be launching right in to our text, the word of God from John’s Gospel.
There are two main points which form the outline of today’s sermon. First, in the first three verses of John’s Gospel we find one of the most powerful Biblical statements confirming the deity of Jesus Christ. Or, to say this another way, the first point of our sermon today is “JESUS IS GOD.” [Repeat: JESUS IS GOD] While this is a profound enough statement to fill many books and on which to give many sermons, we have a second main point from the text for our sermon today. And that is: Jesus the light of the world. [REPEAT: “Jesus is the light of the world.”
So, the two points: JESUS IS GOD, and JESUS IS THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD.
POINT 1: JESUS IS GOD
To the first point we read:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.”
Here as we begin reading the Gospel According to the Apostle John—the fourth of the Gospels that God has given us—we find that he, John, clearly harkens back to Genesis, chapter one. As Genesis begins saying “IN THE BEGINNING, God created the heavens and the earth” so John begins his Gospel saying “IN THE BEGINNING was the Word.” Both Genesis and John start out with the words “IN THE BEGINNING.” What follows then in Genesis is a statement about God, and what follows in John is a statement about the Word. In John’s writing it is clear that he is equating the Word (which is Jesus) with God. John is making the point: JESUS IS GOD.
In Genesis, God created the heavens and the earth through his spoken Word. God spoke all things into being.
Notice all of the times in which God spoke during creation:
God SAID: “Let there be light”
And God SAID: “Let there be an expanse to separate waters above from the waters below”
And God SAID: “Let waters under the heavens be gathered into one place and let the dry Earth appear”
And God SAID: “Let the earth sprout vegetation
And God SAID: “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens”
And God SAID: “Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures”
And God SAID: “Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds”
And God SAID: “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.”
Clearly, creation was through and by the spoken Word of God.
We now find John explaining that Jesus himself IS that Word of God. Jesus both is the Word of God and HE IS GOD. And being God, Jesus is eternal, having existed for all eternity, not being made himself, but being the one through whom ALL THINGS are made.
The text tells us:
“All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.”
There is here, for clarity, both positive and negative statements. [Both an affirmation and a denial] Positively, it is said, “ALL things were made through him.” And negatively, it is said, “without him was not any thing made that was made.”
And so, if all things were made through Jesus Christ, then Jesus Christ existed before all things. He existed before the creation of the world. JESUS IS GOD.
It is at this point that so many have erred, and that so many cults have arisen. The denial of Jesus’s divinity, the denial that JESUS IS GOD is a regular feature of pseudo-Christian cults. Jesus’s divinity was denied not only by the ancient heretic Arius in the 4thcentury, but by John Calvin’s adversary Michael Servetus in the 16thcentury, and most prominently today the denial of Jesus’s divinity is made by the so-called “Jehovah’s Witnesses.” Did you know this? The Jehovah’s Witnesses do not believe that Jesus is God. They believe that Jesus is a created being, like an angel.
But, you might say, does not the Apostle John tells us plainly that “in the beginning … the Word was God”? How does a Jehovah’s Witness ignore this fact? How do they ignore this verse? The Jehovah’s Witnesses, seeking to avoid the truth of these verses, have created their own translation of the Bible called The New World Translation. And in this horrendous translation they say not “the Word was God” but “the Word was A God.” They make Jesus to be another God, second to the Father. They seek to distort the truth of the Trinity. So you should never trust the The New World Translation. And do not be deceived – the Jehovah’s Witness that comes to your door preaches heresy, the very same heresy the Christian church has condemned throughout its history, from the Council of Nicea to modern times.
The Apostles themselves wrote in the Greek language of the New Testament and the Christian church from the beginning understood that language clearly. They understood it through various passages of Scripture to teach over and over again with complete clarity that JESUS IS GOD. The New World Translation’s denial of this truth goes against history, and against the rules of grammar, and against the Word of Go. It is a terrible error, for Paul tells us that salvation comes only to those who confess with their mouth that Jesus is Lord. JESUS IS GOD
As we continue in subsequent weeks we’ll find further proof from John’s Gospel of the deity of Christ. One of my favorites is the seven times Jesus says “I AM.” [REPEAT: The seven times Jesus says “I AM”]
1. I AM the bread of life
2. I AM the light of the world
3. I AM the gate
4. I AM the good shepherd
5. I AM the resurrection and the life
6. I AM the way, the truth, and the life
7. I AM the vine
In each of these Jesus declares his divinity, equating himself with Yahweh – the “I AM WHO I AM” of the Old Testament, so that there can be no doubt that JESUS IS GOD.
This is a profound truth, that JESUS IS GOD. But we have something else about Jesus as well in our passage. JESUS IS THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD. This is our second point. [REPEAT: Jesus is the light of the world.]
POINT 2: JESUS IS LIGHT OF THE WORLD.
“4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
Both of these terms — life and light — are themes in John’s Gospel.
We find that the Word (Jesus) not only created the world, but sustains it and preserves it. Life does not exist apart from the sustaining and preserving power of God. Paul elsewhere says “In Him we live and move and have our being.” We do not have an absentee father for a God, a God who creates the world and then leaves it be, but we have a God who, as the catechism says, powerfully preserves his creatures. It is from God that we find the origin of our lives, and it is in God that we find the sustainer of our lives.
And the life of Christ is the light of men.
But what does this mean: “the light of men?” [REPEAT: what does this mean: “the light of men?”]
Light, naturally, is a synonym for knowledge. And darkness is a synonym for ignorance.
According to John Calvin and other commentators, this “light of men” which John is speaking of is “the light of understanding.”
Think of it this way: Animals do not think rationally. Animals think by instinct. [When a bear got into our trash last Monday, it did so because it was hungry, not because it came to the conclusion that dumpster diving was the secret to success].
Animals do not think rationally. Animals think by instinct. But man, created in the image of God, is given rational ability—knowledge—the light of understanding. And this “light of men” finds its source is the light of Jesus Christ. That is, we do not ultimately have knowledge of our own power, but must depend entirely upon God. As the Psalmist say “in thy light shall we see light.” [REPEAT: “in thy light shall we see light.”]
When men was first created he saw the light of the Lord much more clearly. In the fall however, the darkness of sin arose.
Darkness then refers to fallen mankind, darkened by sin and unbelief.
But though the darkness of sin ever since the fall has effected man’s mind, the light of understanding is not wholly extinguished, but (as per Calvin) “amidst the darkness of the human mind, some remaining sparks of the brightness still shine.”
[REPEAT: But though the darkness of sin ever since the fall has effected man’s mind, the light of understanding is not wholly extinguished, but (as per Calvin) “amidst the darkness of the human mind, some remaining sparks of the brightness still shine.” [REPEAT: “amidst the darkness of the human mind, some remaining sparks of the brightness still shine.”]
The sparks of brightness that remain in our corrupt nature include (1) the knowledge the God exists, and (2) the knowledge we all have in our minds to make the distinction between good and evil. Or, to say this another way, the difference between good and evil is engraved upon the conscience of each and every person.
Even if you have never read the Bible, the light of nature—the light of understanding— shines sufficiently to inform you that there is a God and that there is a difference between right and wrong, a difference between good and evil. This is the conscience.
In the tradition of the Reformed churches, in their Canons of Dordt, we find an excellent summary of this point. It reads:
“There remain, however, in man since the fall, the glimmerings of natural light, whereby he retains some knowledge of God, of natural things, and of the differences between good and evil.”
But man gets no credit for these sparks of knowledge. God is not impressed that you admit his existence or sense guilt when you know you’ve done something wrong. In fact, not only do we get no credit for the sparks of brightness remaining in our minds, but it is this light of nature that ensures that we (ALL MEN) have no excuse before the most holy God.
The very first words of the our Westminster Confession explain:
“Although the light of nature, and the works of creation and providence do so far manifest the goodness, wisdom, and power of God, as to leave men unexcusable; yet are they not sufficient to give that knowledge of God, and of his will, which is necessary unto salvation.”
That is, we need more than the light of nature. In darkness man does not welcome the light. It is as we read in the Book of Job: “For God speaks in one way, and in two, though man does not perceive it.” – Job 33:14
Man is willfully ignorant and blind. Man in his sin does not receive the things of God. Darkness could be sitting right here in a pew, listening to the very word of God, and yet not come to believe. The darkness of sin is blinded to the truth of God’s salvation. The darkness does not comprehend the light.
And so for this reason, God decided to do something quite amazing: Because man cannot of his own power come to the light, God decided to do something quite amazing]: He sent that very light of the world, Jesus Christ, INTO the world to teach sinners the way of life. The light of the world was already in the world, but now he has come into world in a new way – incarnate as a human being.
This is where we will pick up in the next passage. We’ll see that of prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled. The prophecy that “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.”
And from this light of Jesus we will know not only the few sparks of natural light —that God exists, and that there is a difference between right and wrong — but the light of Christ will enlighten our minds through the Scriptures to inform us of many great things including God’s plan of salvation by grace; the nature of God as triune, and even the Scriptural pictures of our eternal life in heaven.
In the light of Jesus Christ we are, as Paul says in Colossians, “being renewed in knowledge after the image of our creator.” That darkness of sin is peeled away, and the light of Christ is made evident. A light so strong that it converts the soul.
We read in 2 Corinthians 4:6:
6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. – 2 Corinthians 4:6
Before we conclude, I want to look at two applications from our text.
1. There is no denying that the Christian Faith includes growing in knowledge. [REPEAT: The Christian Faith includes growing in knowledge.]
This growth in knowledge does not happen immediately, without effort on our behalf, but we are “being renewed in knowledge” through the revealed Word of God. We are to read the Bible so that we can grow in knowledge. The Christian Faith, the basics of it, can be understood even by a small child. But there are many more wonderful things to learn. The learning never ceases. We can spend our entire lives reading the Bible and still find new truths each and every time we read it. This growth in knowledge is an essential part of God’s plan of sanctification. So do not shun the idea of growing in knowledge because that knowledge from God’s word is knowledge of God, our creator. And it is a beautiful thing to more intimately know our loving God.
2. Not all is darkness. There is light in Jesus Christ. [REPEAT: Not all IN THIS WORLD is darkness. There is light in Jesus Christ.]
The darkness of sin, of death, and the grave hovers over us. We see the effects of sin all around us. It is very easy, if we focus on this, to get depressed in our circumstances. But, there is hope. The light of Christ shines through the darkness. Not only can we learn of God through this light, but we learn of our salvation in Christ. And so this light gives us hope. In our darkness, in our most difficult times, there is light. The light not of our own self, but the light of Jesus Christ, the light of the world.
And so, let us conclude with this. Paul well says in Ephesians, and we should take heart in this:
“Once you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord; walk as children of light” (Ephesians 5:8).
Let us pray.