If you have your Bibles, please turn with me to the Gospel of John, chapter 1, verse 1 through 18. John says:
In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
2 He was with God in the beginning.
3 All things were created through Him,
and apart from Him not one thing was created
that has been created.
4 Life was in Him,
and that life was the light of men.
5 That light shines in the darkness,
yet the darkness did not overcome it.
6 There was a man named John
who was sent from God.
7 He came as a witness
to testify about the light,
so that all might believe through him.
8 He was not the light,
but he came to testify about the light.
9 The true light, who gives light to everyone,
was coming into the world.
10 He was in the world,
and the world was created through Him,
yet the world did not recognize Him.
11 He came to His own,
and His own people did not receive Him.
12 But to all who did receive Him,
He gave them the right to be children of God,
to those who believe in His name,
13 who were born,
not of blood,
or of the will of the flesh,
or of the will of man,
but of God.
14 The Word became flesh
and took up residence among us.
We observed His glory,
the glory as the One and Only Son from the Father,
full of grace and truth.
15 (John testified concerning Him and exclaimed,
“This was the One of whom I said,
‘The One coming after me has surpassed me,
because He existed before me.’”)
16 Indeed, we have all received grace after grace
from His fullness,
17 for the law was given through Moses,
grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.
18 No one has ever seen God.
The One and Only Son—
the One who is at the Father’s side—
He has revealed Him.
This is the word of the Lord.
As you probably noticed a moment ago, there’s no version of this where I can fit this passage into a standard Southern Baptist Three Point Sermon outline. In a perfect world, I would love to walk through this line by line one verse at a time, wringing every bit of meaning out of every single sentence John gives us, but if I did that, your grandchildren’s grandchildren would have grandchildren of their own by the time we finished. So we’re gonna look through John’s prologue, here, at kind of a dead sprint, instead, and let it frame the rest of what we learn as we learn from John’s gospel over the next several months.
Now, the upside of going through John’s gospel is that it’s beautiful. The downside is that it’s weird. John is going to show us things that confuse us, often they’ll shock us, and sometimes they’ll even upset us, and yet. John has given us, kind of, the key to understand why he’s showing us what he shows us, right here in this opening prologue, so as we walk through today’s passage, and as we walk through John’s gospel as a whole, over the next several months, we’re gonna come back, again and again, and again, to verse 18. Looking with me at chapter one, verse 18, John says:
“No one has ever seen God.
But the One and Only Son—
the One who is at the Father’s side—
He has revealed Him.”
“No one has ever seen God, but Jesus has revealed him.” Jesus is the one who reveals God to us. Jesus reveals what God is like. Jesus shows us what God values, what God cares for. When we look at Jesus, what we’re seeing is God.
“No one has ever seen God. But the One and Only Son—the One who is at the Father’s side—He has revealed Him.” What we’re about to do is spend the next several months looking directly at God, as clearly as he has ever revealed himself to us, so that we can know him, and cherish him, and cling to him as tightly as we’ve ever clinged to anything.
So, getting started, the first thing John tells us about Jesus is that Jesus is our Creator. Maybe that sounds like I’m pointing out the obvious, but that’s a serious claim. Quite a bit of what we learn about Jesus throughout the gospels could be taken in a whole range of ways. But this is different. If Jesus is who John describes him as, then Jesus is our Creator. There’s a pretty limited range of ways that you can interpret that.
He says in verses 2-3, that “He was with God in the beginning,” which is already saying a lot. Because notice what he does not say, here. He doesn’t say what you’d expect him to say: He does not say that he was “created by God in the beginning.”
He says that Jesus was with God in the beginning. And if Jesus was with God in the very beginning, then Jesus had no beginning. Jesus never started existing. There was never a time where Jesus did not exist, alongside his Father and Spirit. Jesus has never not been, period.
And John goes on to say, “All things were created through Him, and apart from Him not one thing was created that has been created.” So not only has Jesus never not existed, but you were created through him. That’s the first thing to understand about Jesus: He created you.
Now, here’s the thing, though. That means more than you think it means. You might be sitting in the pews, thinking, “Obviously Jesus created me.” Right? You might be thinking, “Everybody knows that, do you have a point?” And the answer is, yes, I do.
Because the point here is not just that Jesus made you way back in the dawn of man so you should stop once a day and have a moment of silence and remember that you didn’t make yourself, or something like that, even though that’s not a bad idea. The point is that you are already in a relationship with Jesus.
The fact that you were created through Jesus means that you already have a relationship with Jesus. The only question is what kind of relationship you have. It’s common to come to church, sit down, and listen to an encouraging talk where the pastor brings things to a halt at the end, gets really puffy eyed, and then begs you, and I quote, to “Let God Into Your LifeTM.” You know what I’m talking about?
I will not be doing that. Don’t get me wrong, there will be an altar call. I will stand awkwardly at the front waiting for you. But I will not be asking you to maybe if you’re up for it think about considering whether you might perhaps if it suits you want to “Let God Into Your Life,” because that’s not actually an option that you have.
You have zero choice about whether or not you “Let God Into Your Life.”
Because God let himself into your life when he created you.
He’s there. Jesus is in your life. Jesus has never not been in your life. Jesus let himself into your life when he created you and you have absolutely no way of kicking him out of your life or keeping him at arms length or sectioning him off into a small cubicle that you drop by in on Sundays now and then. You do not decide whether Jesus is allowed in your life, Jesus created you in the beginning and he’s been there, in your life, since day one.
In other words, Jesus owns you.
There’s a sense in which Mount Zion kinda pranked itself: When you hired a young guy, you probably thought that you were getting not a Fundamentalist. Right?
But if I haven’t scared you off already, I’d like to make the case that everything I’ve just told you is good news, not bad news.
Because listen to the way that John describes the God who owns you: He says, in verses 4-5, “Life was in Him, and that life was the light of men.” That’s very abstract, that takes some “decoding,” but think about what that means. Jesus is the “light” of men. He is the “light” within you. Jesus is what pushes back the darkness.
Often, when the Bible talks about “darkness,” it’s not just talking about the sort of darkness you see when you turn out the lights. It’s talking about the sort of darkness that you recognize when you’re lost in the woods and the sun’s gone down. It’s the sort of darkness that you recognize when you’ve moved into a run-down apartment and you’re lying in your bed and you can hear the cockroaches crawling around the walls and the ceilings of the room, knowing that they’re not gonna scatter till you flip the lightswitch back on. It’s a sinister darkness. It’s a chaotic darkness. It’s the sort of darkness that hides terrible things you’d rather not see or know about or come face to face with.
John says “That light shines in the darkness, yet the darkness did not overcome it.” Jesus is that light, who shines in this darkness, and will not be overcome by it. That’s how John describes the God who owns you. That’s good news.
But you might get nervous, you might break into a cold sweat, when you hear that there’s somebody out there who owns you body and your soul and your everything. Right? That makes sense. That’s the right response, up front. Because if you’re a human being who lives on planet earth then your personal relationships have probably been mostly defined by darkness, right? We let each other down, constantly. Sometimes we betray each other.
To use an example that’s very close to home: Over the last couple of weeks, watching people react to the impeachment proceedings on social media, I watched people who’ve known each other for twenty years break off their relationships, sometimes even family relationships, in the comment section of a Facebook post, I’ve watched people threaten each other with violence because they were on two different sides of whether the president should be removed from office – If I’m accidentally describing you right now, take this as an open rebuke: You need to get a grip, grow up, and go apologize to your family members, regardless of which side of the debate you were on. There is a profound darkness that wraps itself around our thoughts and desires and intentions and poisons the way that we treat each other, and that’s true both inside and outside of the Church.
If you are a human being who lives on planet earth, your thoughts and assumptions and expectations about God have probably been pre-poisoned by the sheer darkness that has always overcome us and turned our relationships with our friends and parents and spouses and children toxic. And yet, John says that this Jesus is the true Light that has come into the world and that the darkness cannot overcome.
Jesus does not have your vices. God is not petty like you and I are petty. Christ does not share your insecurities and your childishness and your cruelty and your selfishness and your cold disregard for the needs of others – because these things are darkness. There is no darkness in Christ. Church, this is who you want owning you.
That’s a weird thought. Christ is the person that you want for a master. Because either Christ owns you or you own you. Either Christ is your God or you are your god, and you are not a merciful god. Right? Can we level with ourselves, here? You are not a loving god. You’re a cruel god. You’re a petty and unforgiving god. Like, look, I’m regularly confronted with the fact that it would be far better for there to be no god than for me to be the god of the universe, because I am a terrible god. I am a terrible master. I am not fit to be my own master. You do not want to own yourself.
And so John has very good news for us, and that is that the “True Light” – who “gives light to men,” and “cannot be overcome by the darkness” – this Light owns us. We belong to the Light of the world. And when you belong to the Light of the world, you’re in very good hands.
Church, Christ owns you, and that is the best news you’ll hear today.
But if you were Today Years Old when you learned the Jesus literally owns you, then your next question is probably “Okay, what does he want from me?” And that’s a good question, thank you for asking. I’ll tell you what he doesn’t want. Because God is not amassing a “Fan Club.” God’s not gathering up sycophants. Here’s what Christ actually wants from you:
Through the prophet Micah, God says, “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” There is a God who owns you, and that’s what he wants from you.
On a different occasion, the people of Israel said, essentially, “What do you want from us?” And God responded in Isaiah 58 by saying, “Is this not the fast that I have chosen: To loose the bonds of wickedness, To undo the heavy burdens, To let the oppressed go free, And that you break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, And that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out; When you see the naked, that you cover him, And not hide yourself from your own flesh?” There is a God who owns you, and that’s what he wants from you.
Through the prophet Hosea, a similar thing plays out. God’s people turned the whole thing into a bizarre carnival act, they would make sacrifice after sacrifice, because they thought it would appease God. They thought they could live, essentially, however they wanted, and that God would look past their terribleness so long as they paid lip-service to him. They thought God was a narcissist, so he’d accept them so long as the gifts kept coming. But in Hosea 6:6, he says, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice, and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.” I don’t want your gifts. I want your goodness.
That’s what the Christ who owns you actually wants from you. Because God is light, and he wants your light to shine the way his light shines. He wants your godliness to reflect his goodness. He wants every human being on planet earth to be an extension of the goodness, the beauty, the peace that God created us for. That’s what God wants from you. Not your money. Not your fame. Not your talents. Not your greatness. Not your power. Not your defense. God does not need anything from you. But he does want something from you.And the something that he wants from you is your goodness.
But this is where the good news about God becomes the bad news about you.
In the third chapter of his letter to the Romans, Paul goes into, kind of, a famous rant about how everybody’s terrible. It’s basically a Rodney Dangerfield stand-up act. And at the height of his rant, he says:
“Are we any better? Not at all!”
He’s listing off the sins of the Gentile peoples of the world, and anybody in the audience might’ve been nodding along, or clapping, the way you might if I stepped up to the pulpit and just started tearing into whichever group of people you obsessively blame for ruining your country, or your neighborhood, or your anything. And right as the folks Paul’s talking to get to their absolute rowdiest, Paul cuts them off and says, “I don’t know why you’re clapping. I’m talking about you.”
Imagine being in the audience for that. Paul goes on and says:
“For we have previously charged that both Jews and Gentiles are all under sin, 10 as it is written:
There is no one righteous, not even one.
11 There is no one who understands;
there is no one who seeks God.
12 All have turned away;
all alike have become useless.
There is no one who does what is good,
not even one.
13 Their throat is an open grave;
they deceive with their tongues.
Vipers’ venom is under their lips.
14 Their mouth is full of cursing and bitterness.
15 Their feet are swift to shed blood;
16 ruin and wretchedness are in their paths,
17 and the path of peace they have not known.
18 There is no fear of God before their eyes.
In case you missed it, that’s everybody. Paul’s talking about everybody. Paul’s talking about you. The good news about God is the bad news about you. That’s why in Isaiah 24:5, the Lord speaks through the prophet and says “[The earth is] polluted by its inhabitants, for they transgressed laws, violated statutes, broke the everlasting covenant.” He’s not mincing any words, here.
But it gets even worse because, as you would expect, the God we’ve been describing, this morning, has the right response to our bad-ness. In Joshua 23:16, he says that because of these things, “The Lord’s anger will burn against you.”
If that shocks you, it should. Like we’ve said before, God is love. That’s not a touchy-feely liberal sentiment, that’s literally the Bible. That’s 1 John, chapter 4, verse 8. God is love, and John says that because God is love, there’s a word for people who do not love their neighbors, and that word is liar. People who do not love their neighbors do not know God, period. Sin always boils down to rejecting God’s call to love your neighbor, and rejecting God’s call to love your neighbor causes God’s righteous anger to burn against you. That doesn’t contradict the fact that God is love. That’s true because God is love. The good news about God becomes the bad news about us.
So Ephesians 2 says that we become “Children under wrath.” 2 Peter 2:14 says the same thing in different language, it says we’re “Children of the curse.” In Hosea 1:9 God says in no uncertain terms, “You are not my people and I am not your God.” That is our natural state. That is what we grow into when we’re left to our own devices.
And yet. As John puts in, that is not the end of the story. He says, in verse 12 that “To all who received Jesus, He gave them the right to be children of God.” That’s you. How do you become a child of God again? Receive Jesus.
You know how receive things? You just do. Right? You send me a postcard, the only way to not receive it is to reject it. Literally. If I do not “Return To Sender,” then I’ve received your postcard. That’s how you become a “Child of God” again. You receive Jesus.
You bring nothing to it. You don’t redeem yourself. You don’t earn a second chance. You throw yourself on his mercy. That’s the whole thing.
As a, kind of, grim word of warning. If you receive Jesus, he will spend the rest of forever driving you to right every wrong that used to define your life.
Because righting the wrongs that used to define your life is what you do as a member of God’s family. But you become a family member by receiving Jesus. That’s the whole thing. As Paul says in Ephesians 2, the beginning, middle, and end of our salvation is “by grace, through faith.” God saves us because of his great mercy. And if you would like to receive that great mercy, all you do is ask.
And that’s what we’d like to invite you to do, this morning. Like I said, I am not gonna beg you to maybe think about letting God into your life, because that’s not an option that you have. But what I am gonna do is offer to walk you through the process of throwing yourself on the mercy of this God.
So as the music plays in just a moment, I’ll be standing at the front, waiting for you to come talk to me.