(This is an edited version of the sermon preached in the Parish Church of the Ascension, Oughtibridge on Sunday August 30th)
The Jesus John’s Gospel presents is not just a bonus, a useful optional extra in our lives, but he is indispensable. We can’t do without him. We looked last week at John’s purpose in writing his Gospel. As he makes clear in chapter 20 verse 31, John wrote his Gospel in order that those who read it ‘may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing (they) may have life in his name’ (NIV).
Life in his name because without Jesus you would be lifeless in the most important sense of the word. We would be alive physically, of course, but we would be not alive to the wonderful and loving God who made us and who will one day judge us and therefore our lives would be going nowhere. There really would be no ultimate point in getting up in the morning. John’s purpose.
This morning we are looking at John’s prologue, the overture to his Gospel and in this overture we catch the themes, the melodies that occur throughout the Gospel. And we are going to look at two of them this morning, very important themes in John’s Gospel that we need to get to grips with if we are properly to understand how indispensable our Lord Jesus is to us.
These two themes are interlocking, closely connected and John gets going with them right from the start – verse 1: ‘In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.’
In the beginning – it harks back to the first verse in the first book of the Bible, Genesis chapter 1 verse 1: ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.’ John strikes that Genesis theme because in his Gospel he is wanting to show that the Lord Jesus Christ is the divine Son of God who brings people into God’s new creation. The first creation, the Genesis creation, has been spoiled by human rebellion and sin. The world, by which John means the world of humanity, has turned its back on its creator God. Sin and its result death are therefore on the loose in the old creation.
If you look at vv10-13, that melody of the new creation versus the old gains momentum: ‘He’, the divine Word (we’ll see the significance of that title for the Son of God in a moment) – ‘He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognise him. He came to that which was his own but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, who believed 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.’
Catch the melody of the new creation there? The world of sinful humanity, the old creation, rejects the Son of God, the Lord Jesus. But those people who do receive him, who do believe in him – they are born again, born of God into his new creation. Without Jesus people are spiritually dead but when individuals believe in his name, they are born again into God’s new creation. A vitally important theme in John’s Gospel which is certainly developed in these first three chapters.
Second theme there right from the start in John’s overture – Jesus makes God known or, to put it another way, without Jesus we can’t know God. ‘In the beginning was the Word and the Word was God and the Word was with God.’
John describes the divine being who took human flesh in the Lord Jesus Christ as the Word of God and it is a fantastic description because Jesus makes God known. Look on please to verse 18: ‘No one has ever seen God but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side,’ (referring to the Lord Jesus) ‘has made him known’.
Try having a conversation with the silent type in the Parish Centre after the service. What’s your name? Silence. Where do you live? Silence. Would you like a cup of coffee? Silence. We’re not going to get to know that person because they won’t say anything. Without self-disclosure through words you can’t get to know a person. It’s the same with God. Unless he chooses to make himself known, we cannot know him. We can know a few things about him by looking at the world he has made but we can’t get to know him intimately as our Father God unless he chooses to make himself known to us and he does that through his Word, who is Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
There’s also another dimension to John’s description of the Lord Jesus as the Word of God, for you remember from Genesis God created the universe by speaking – God said: Let there be light, water, land, physical life. John connects Jesus to the Genesis narrative by identifying the Word of God as the agent of God’s creation – verses 2&3: ‘He (the Word of God) was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made: without him nothing was made that has been made.’
John’s description of our Lord Jesus as the divine Word of God is profound and vitally important.
Without Jesus, none of us would be here for a start for he was God’s agent in creating the physical world we live in and on which we depend and without Jesus none of us would have the right to call God our Father. Without Jesus, none of us would be children of God. Without Jesus, we would be without the saving knowledge of God for he is the divine Word who makes God known.
Just to quote in closing from the Catechism in our Church of England’s Book of Common Prayer. It’s brilliant in its presentation of the vital truths we have been hearing from John’s overture this morning. The Catechism, according to its title, is ‘an instruction to be learned of every person before he be brought to be confirmed by the Bishop’.
Question to the person being confirmed: ‘What is your name?’ Answer: ‘N or M’, so Bill or Mary. ‘Who gave you this name?’ ‘My Godfathers and God-mothers in my Baptism, wherein I was made a member of Christ, the child of God, and an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven.’
‘What did your Godfathers and Godmothers then for you?’ ‘They did promise and vow three things in my name. First, that I should renounce the devil and all his works, the pomps and vanities of this wicked world, and all the sinful lusts of the flesh. Secondly, that I should believe all the articles of the Christian faith. And thirdly, that I should walk in the same all the days of my life.’
‘Dost thou think that thou art bound to believe, and to do, as they have promised for thee?’
‘Yes verily’ (or you betcha to put it in more modern parlance); ‘and by God’s help so I will. And I heartily thank our heavenly Father that he hath called me to this state of salvation, through Jesus Christ our Saviour. And I pray unto God to give me grace, that I may continue in the same unto my life’s end.’
Wouldn’t it wonderful if more and more young people in our day and age got on the end of that and not just young people but all of us? No watering down there of the fact that you and I cannot do without the Lord Jesus.
Do you think that you are bound to believe in the Son of God for salvation? Yes verily because there is no salvation from sin and death without the Lord Jesus Christ. There is no new creation without the Word of God who became flesh in Jesus Christ. There is no personal knowledge of the one true God as our loving Father without the Word of God made flesh in Jesus Christ. There is no life without the Word of God made flesh in Jesus Christ. ‘In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.’