Identity? Witness? Incarnation?
Second Sunday of Lent, February 4th 2018
Main passage – John 1:1-18, also Colossians 1:15-20.
14 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.
So declares John in his incredible opening. Mark Gospel takes us to John the Baptist and Jesus baptism. Matthew and Luke take us to his birth. John takes us back to the beginning – not the beginning of time, before that!
Two short points to begin – identity and then witnessing, then a final longer point, incarnation, how God up there becomes the God down here.
Identity. In John 1, as we hear glorious words about Christ’s identity, we suddenly hear words about our identity, our glorious identity. We suddenly hear words of what the Lord does, for those who believe and trust in Christ. Our new identity is declared – simply, clearly, powerfully.
”to all who did receive him to those who believe in his name he gave the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision, or a husband’s will, but born of God.” (vv12-13).
As a believer in Christ you are a child of God, a son or daughter of God. You have been given the right to call God your Heavenly Father. Not because of what you have done, or what you know or who your parents are, but because of who you trust in and believe in.
In that era, it was an incredible statement – an Empire, built upon status – to be a Roman was of value and carried many rights with it – as we see in the Book of Acts. In the Empire, most people were slaves, without rights and freedoms. It was a male focused society, with women second class. What an incredible status God gives. The right is given to all regardless of gender, age, status, whether slave or free – ”the right to personal membership within the family circle of God….Nobodies were transformed into somebodies.” (Milne, The Message of John, p.45). Even in our European countries where we enjoy many rights and freedoms, so many people struggle and are crippled by a lack of self worth, including inside the Christian church community. As John proclaims Christ’s identity, he shouts our identity – we are personally valued, dearly loved children of God, regardless of how others may see us or how we see ourselves…
Second point. Witnessing. As Christ’s identity is described, John the Baptist is mentioned – a witness – to the life and light that comes with Christ. We are to be witnesses like him, to Christ, as Scripture endlessly reminds us. The reason – that people may believe, that people may receive Christ. This is not about intellectually, merely agreeing Jesus was more than a man or more than a good teacher. It is about welcoming him, submitting to him in a personal relationship. When it says ‘believe in him’, the Greek word suggests Christ is looking for each of us to place our personal trust in him.
As we said last week, more than 50% of this nation declares themselves to be atheist or agnostic and many more would say they are religious but do not have a living faith. We want to play our part in helping more people discover God as their heavenly father, we desire to see more and more brothers and sisters in Christ here in the Netherlands and in the countries we call our home. So one task towards this great need.
Above, (in the PDF or the image), is a prayer plan. Through the years I keep coming back to the fact, that sharing our Christian faith in words and deeds – needs to be built upon a foundation of intercession for those who do not believe. So our back page gives each of us a way to do this. I’d like you to join this prayer challenge. To prayerfully reflect this week asking the Lord to guide you to 5 non- believers that you will pray regularly for – at least once a week. And secondly to write down your street name and two streets near you or connected to you and commit to pray for those streets. There are suggested themes for prayer on the sheet. So rip the sheet of or take it home and fill it in as we bring before the Lord regularly those who do not believe and the streets on which we live…
Incarnation. God up there became the God down here. The film Darkest Hour – was released last month – it is about the first weeks of Winston Churchill as British PM who becomes PM in May 1940 a few days before attacks on Netherlands, Belgium and France begin. At the start of the film as he goes to the Palace to be invited by the King to become PM, Churchill looks out at the streets of London as he drives by and he tells his driver that he has never been on the Metro, or taken a bus… Later, in the film, weeks later, as Churchill struggles with doubts about the direction he should lead the country, should he seek peace as troops as being forced back to the French coast… on another trip, he gets out of his car and goes down the underground – where a lady is shocked to be asked how to get to Westminister, home of British Parliament. And then he walks onto the tube and you see the faces as people recognise him, and get off their chairs, some don’t want to be near him. You can see the awe. That this man – everyone knows – this PM this great leader – is on their metro. He is travelling like them… Until he tells them they do not need to be frightened and he begins, as the train moves along to ask them what they think about the war and what Britain should do – fight on, seek peace? Awe and wonder and as they talk, they become more relaxed and more open with him. The PM came and sat on the underground and they got to know him a little.
John takes time, deliberate time, to describes who was the one who stepping into our world. ”In the beginning was the Word.” John knows what he is doing, choosing those words. He takes the reader back to Genesis 1, to creation. He begins to describe in his gospel the new creation and the path to the new heaven and earth, and through whom it is achieved.
”The Word was with God and the Word was God, he was with God in the beginning.”
The Word in Greek is Logos. It had great meaning for Hebrews. As we read our Old Testament, again Genesis 1, the Word there is the agent of creation – as words are spoken – light come, and life comes and creation out of nothing takes place. The Word brings things into being.
And by the Word, God relates to his people – in Genesis 15, we hear ‘the word of the Lord came to Abram.” The Word recalls how God reaches out to his people again and again over the centuries. The Word came to the prophets who communicated the will and plans of the Lord God. So the Word of God represents God’s powerful deliberate and effective action in his creation.
And also, the phrase ‘the Word of God’ was a common replacement for the divine name when the GK Old Testament was read in the Synagogue and the reader needed an alternative to express the unmentionable name of the Lord God.
When we hear these ideas it all sounds pretty theological maybe even a bit dull. The question for the reader, who is the Word? We know the answer. But think again, try to step into the mind of someone who doesn’t know all we do. The Word – through whom creation came, the Word who came to Abram, later the Word that came to Elijah and many of the prophets. And you grow up, maybe in a synagogue, hearing the Word of God being used for the divine name.
You hear John say: In the Beginning was the Word – and you agree, remembering, all we have just said, remembering the great effect the Word has in creation. But then John ”and the Word was with God.” Suggesting that the Word was somehow separate from God – personified. But then John says: And the Word was God. Suggesting that this personified Word, not only was with God, but is God. Suggesting that God is One but has more than one person, but the persons are God.
John goes on, again using the Genesis images in a new way. How the Word, now brings life – as he did in the creation – now in new creation new life comes to humans. And that life is light – and the darkness cannot overcome it. As the darkness was cornered and shaped by the light in Genesis, in another way, darkness cannot stop the light.
And you may have been trying to think what it all meant – and then it becomes mindblowing – John the Baptist is a witness – to the Light, and then we hear –
”the true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world…”
he repeats it a little later, as printed on our front cover.
”The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory…”
Incarnation. The Word came into world. The Word became a human being – not like a human, or similar. Fully God, fully human. As John later would write:
”That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched – this we proclaim concerning the Word of Life.’‘ (1 John 1:1).
The One through whom everything was created – things visible and invisible – became human, and if you had been there like John you could have seen him, touched him, heard him.
How does the incarnation affect us? A true story provided by Open Doors. A Chinese Communist Party local party leader went to a church at the start of December. He spoke to the pastor, and the pastor asked him what sort of God could he believe and trust in. The party boss said, if it was true, he would be looking for a God who was totally powerful, totally just and fair and also totally loving – who was interested in humankind. The pastor gave him a bible. He began to read. He got to the account in Luke about the birth of Jesus and how the angels sang. He wondered why did they sing.
His own wife was expecting a baby that month and she gave birth safely. As he watched his sleeping newborn he continued to read the Bible. The Spirit opened his eyes and he saw why they sang.
He saw power – a greater act than creating the world: in the beginning God was bringing the world into being, now he, somehow incredibly – eternal, omnipotent, omnipresent, infinitely holy – became fully human remaining fully God.
God was loving. If God didn’t care for us, wasn’t interested in us, he would not have come because of the suffering Jesus would endure.
And justice. God loved us so much he came. He came to redeem sinful humanity – so we could become children of God. In the incarnation this Chinese boss saw power, love, justice. And he gave his life to Christ that night in December.
John describes so much in a few verses. God becoming flesh – incredible that it can true. And to choose to do so, what love for us. And to do so, for the need of justice, that our sins could be paid for, that we could receive grace. I read something by Shane Claiborne – leader of a Christian community in USA – and he said:
”O God you stretch out the universe, and wash our feet with your hands.”
To think about that. John wants to get out attention. He takes us to Christ’s identity and he invites us to hold that fact – fully God fully man – within us as we see how Christ acts, speaks, that when the feet are washed at the Last Supper, it is God who washes all feet. The One through whom all things were made, is the one who allows betrayal, mocking, spitting, pain and for his blood to be shed on the cross. Truly in awe, the God who loves us and values us so much to do such a thing, the God who views sin so seriously to needs such an act of reconciliation. As we contemplate this, we are moved to kneel in worship and prayer – like the angels sang, to say ‘Glory to God in the highest’, or like the elders, creatures and angels. ”To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb, be praise and honour and glory and power for ever and ever!’‘ (Rev 5)
God up there became the God down here. He did come and dwell among us. As Churchill climbed into that Metro. But Christ did not come to ask questions. He did not come with doubts. He – the Word – Jesus – the only Son of the Father – came to bring life, bring light, to show glory, to show grace and to bring truth… to give those who believe the right to become children of God, his desire that all would receive and trust in him.
Identity, Witnessing, Incarnation.
Shall we pray.