Thursday, September 27, 2012

Things are More than They Seem

When I was young, I was the worst at solving riddles or seeing the double image in an optical illusion such as the one below. In fact, it wasn’t until someone would come along and give me a helpful hint or point to some spot on the picture that I would be able to enjoy all that there was and thus satisfy my curiosity. I knew that things were more than they seemed to me, however, I simply could not see them for myself. Is not this how life is? Something happens to us that we do not fully understand- A diagnosis comes back from the doctor, a son or daughter has some news, a deal comes through for us, etc. and we step back and wonder, “is this all that there is in this world?” “Is something else at work that I’m not aware of?“ “Are things more than they seem?” Today I would like the opportunity to begin a series from the book of John that I believe will answer these questions and more. “What does God look like?” “What was before the beginning?” “Who is Jesus really?” “Is there such thing as truth?” However, today my objective is simple. Today I don’t’ want to preach, but instead simply want to lay out before you the argument that John sets out to prove in His introduction. Take it, leave it, or investigate it how you may. But if you dare, I invite you to travel through this book with us over the next several weeks and determine whether or not you believe John proves Himself and whether or not things are more than they seem.

I. The Word is Eternal-1:1a-“…in the beginning was the Word…”

The prologue of John’s gospel is a thesis and introduction into the major themes of the entire work. As any good writer knows, the author is supposed to begin his argument by telling you what he is going to prove. This is exactly what John sets out to do here. The first truism that John will work to prove in the remainder of the gospel is this, “the Word is eternal.” Notice, instead of beginning with genealogies (Matthew & Luke), or introducing Jesus Christ’s ministry (Mark), John begins at the very beginning (that being a very good place to start). The phrase, “in the beginning” is reminiscent of the first words in another famous book, Genesis.

This might be comparable to beginning an event or story with some familiar phrase or words to grab the attention of your audience. Many know to listen when someone begins a conversation with “true story.” Similarly, many used to prepare themselves for a special event every Monday night around this time when they heard Hank Williams say, “Are you ready for some football!” These and other examples establish mood and profundity. Similarly, by starting off with this familiar phrase, John immediately arrests the attention of the audience who would have been familiar with Genesis, the story of God’s creation, just as we would be when a loved one begins to explain their day with “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

However, the “beginning” that John is referring to is undefined. This is so because of the tense of the verb for being here. Notice, it is not, “in the beginning the Word became” or “The Word existed in the beginning,” instead, the Word always was, meaning that the Word is infinite, always being there, from the very, very beginning.

What or who is this Word? (and why doesn’t John introduce God here in the beginning of the book?) In the beginning, it was the words of God that spoke everything into existence. In the Old Testament, it was the word of God that spoke deliverance to a people in bondage. In the heart s and lives of people, it is the very Word of God that reveals Himself to all people. The word is the agency of God, through which His work is performed and will exercised. This is the Word that has existed from the beginning and this is the first argument that John seeks to prove.

II. The Word is Relational-1:1b & 2- “…and the Word was with God…He was in the beginning with God…”

One might naturally conclude that this mysterious “Word” that has existed from the beginning is, at least according to John’s argument thus far either God Himself or associated with God. If there is a God, would He not be the one who had been around from the beginning?

Interestingly enough, kids stake a sovereign claim over toys, tiny territories and deciding ties by whose is there first. In some way, we all have said from one time or another, “I was here first!” In a couple of short weeks, this phrase will be shouted from the aisles of department stores on Black Friday.  Races and competitions from Olympic sprints to hotdog eating contests are decided by who finishes first. Why? Everyone understands, as part of human nature, the idea that being first matters to some degree. Where does this come from? Could it be that human beings image their creator in some way, and because they are made in his image understand that coming first counts?

To answer everyone’s question about who this Word is, (whether he is God or associated with God), John suggests that both are true. First, John states that the Word was “with” God, indefinitely and infinitely. The idea here in the original language is that of active and intimate relationship. In fact, in terms of relationship, John’s claim here is that not only is there a relationship between God and the Word, they are distinct from each other. The word that John speaks of here is a relational being and has existed in relationship from the beginning.

Relationships are yet another thing that we can identify with on a very human level. Dysfunctional though they may be, relationships permeate the world in every culture in every environment and in every context. From casual acquaintances to 60-year-old marriages, we are a relational being. Ever wonder where that relational itch in every person stems from? Could it be that relationships, imperfect though they may be, are a way in which we resemble this eternal Word? John at least seems to think so.  

III. The Word is God-1:1c-“…and the Word was God…”

However, John’s next claim is even more off the charts. Not only did the Word exist alongside God at the beginning, the Word was God Himself! In fact, the way that this phrase is constructed in the original language suggests that this phrase should end with an exclamation mark, “and the word was God!” Ultimately, John intends that the whole of his gospel be read in light of this startling argument. It is one thing to be with God in the beginning, but another thing entirely to claim that the Word is God.

In our ever-darkening world of godlessness, claiming the Word as God is striking enough, however, this was also a striking thing to the original audience thousands of years ago! Just as your ears may have perked up after hearing this claim, you can imagine how the original audience must have felt after reading these lines.

It is at this point that John’s thesis statement grows even more profound. If John had merely wanted to affirm that Jesus was divine, there was a perfectly proper Greek word for it. However, he uses the word “God” purposefully to demonstrate that everything you could ever want to say about God, you can also affirm of the Word that is being discussed here.  

IV. The Word is Creator-1:3-“….All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being…”

Notice here that while the Word had no beginning, communicated by the tense of the verb “was” above, everything else did have a beginning. Everything else’s existence had a starting point.

The next item that John is going to set out to prove is that the Word is the agent behind the creation of the world. Taken more literally, this would read, “All things were made by him, and what was made was in no way made without him.” Just as in Genesis, where everything that came into being did so because of God’s word, this Word, understood in this prologue to be a personal agent, created everything. Here, John emphatically argues that everything owes its existence to the Word, not chance, not happenstance, but to this relational, eternal, divine agent.

That the world was created by some intelligent designer is not without evidence.  Even Scientists who reject the concept of a creator God agree that all living things exhibit evidence of design. Look at the veins of a leaf, the precariously placed planets in the solar system, with earth at precisely the right distance from the sun to create livable amenities for all its inhabitants. Who would come to a wristwatch lying on the ground and say that it was created by chance? No one. Well why do so many look at pictures of cloud nebulae, a chameleon, or into their child’s eyes and say what a wonderful bundle of random occurrences? Even Richard Dawkins, famed atheist stated, “We have seen that living things are too improbably and too beautifully ‘designed’ to have come into existence by chance.” Questions like, “can information come from non-information?”, and “what came before the Big bang, or banged it in the first place?” seem to poke holes in common worldly arguments. Not to mention, there are many irreducibly complex organs in the body, cells, and other living things that cannot be explained through evolutionary steps! Here, John explains creation by arguing that the source of all information and design in the universe is this Word. He is the uncaused cause that caused it all!

V. The Word is Life-1:4a-“…in Him was life and the life was the light of men…”

Eternal, relational, God, creator, the Word, according to John is all of these things, but John is not over yet! Next, John claims that the Word is life and the light of men. “Light” and “life” are near universal religious symbols for positive truths. Here, John’s argument is deeply rooted in the creation that has already been referred to. (By this point, it is clear that John makes great use of the Old Testament, proving, at least to the reader, that he believed it too be trustworthy) At creation, the Bible teaches that calling forth “light” was God’s first creative act (Gen. 1:3-5). Later, God placed lights in the sky to separate between light and darkness (Gen. 1:14-18). In this way, the light made it possible for life to exist.  With this in mind, it is clear that John is saying that the Word is the source of life for all mankind. The Word is the source of both spiritual and physical life.

To know truly gorgeous music is to know Beethoven, Mozart, and Eric Whitacre. To know aesthetic beauty is to know Rembrandt, Michelangelo, and Rafael. To know funny is to know Cosby, Steve Martin, and Chaplin. And, to know true refreshment with a crisp and sweet taste is to know Dr. Pepper. (Pause) John claims here that to know true, meaningful, abundant, and lasting life is to know the Word of which he speaks. The self-existing life of this Word was so dispensed at creation that it became the light of the human race.

VI. The Word is Misunderstood-1:5-“…The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it…”

Light and darkness are not simply opposites, darkness is nothing other than the absence of light. At the first creation, darkness was all that there was over the surface of the deep (Gen. 1:2) until God said (the Word said), “Let there be light!” At no time other than creation could it be more appropriately stated that the light shined in the darkness. Here, the darkness cannot grasp understanding of the light, i.e. the Word.

Given the personification of the darkness “that it could not comprehend the light,” it is clear that John is establishing a theme that he will build upon later in this book. The darkness in John is not only absence of light, but positive evil (cf. 3:19; 8:12; 12:35, 46). The light is revelation of creation and that which pertains to salvation. Darkness is “the world estranged from God, spiritually ignorant and blind, fallen and sinful, dominated by evil.” The light is salvation from these things, hope, mercy and grace that has come through this Word. Apart from the light brought by the incarnate Word, everyone naturally loves darkness and shies away from the light for fear of exposure of their bad deeds.

Unfortunately, this eternal, relational, godly, creator and life is misunderstood by so many. However, now that John establishes these arguments, it is his intention to prove them in his gospel for all who read it so that they might be brought from darkness and into the light of this Word.

But one question still remains…

Who is this Word? What character in John’s gospel successfully matches the criteria we see described in these five short verses? The Word’s name is Jesus! Against the falsehood you have heard and whatever you have assumed, things are more than they seem when it comes to this man. Jesus is eternal (He has always existed). Jesus is relational (and would love to have a relationship with you). Jesus is God (everything that can be said about God can be said of Him). Jesus is Creator (through him, everything you see around you came into being by Him as the uncaused Cause). Jesus is life (and through Him is meaningful, abundant, and eternal life). However, it is clear that Jesus is misunderstood as well. Failure to understand and believe in who Jesus is failure to properly understand everything in this world. He is the solution to the riddle of life, he is the trick to solve the illusion, he is the lens through which everything is in focus. People fail to see that things are more than they seem because they do not know the Word, Jesus Christ. However, this can be corrected.

So What?

Will you believe the arguments that john lays out here concerning the Word, Jesus Christ? Will you accept that He wasn’t an eternal relationship with you? Throughout the remainder of John’s gospel, he delineates the life of this Word. This eternal, relational, creator, and Life became a man and died a death he didn’t deserve so that all men might know life and not suffer what all deserve. If you want meaningful, abundant, eternal, and focused life, it is through Jesus Christ. Know that He loves you and wants a relationship with you. Grow in your understanding of Him through this incredible book. Show Him today that you accept His free gift of eternal life and enjoy complete existence. Things are more than they seem. Is it not about time you notice?