This past Christmas season my family and I were able to just stay at home and recuperate. We all had respiratory infections so we did not want to get away from our home and spread the infections. It gave me some time to do a little casual reading not related to any task I’m doing for the church. It was refreshing. One of the items that I was able to read was a Newsweek article entitled “The Bible: So Misunderstood It's a Sin” which was this fairly long critique of how Christians mishandle the Bible, but more so how the Bible is full of errors. It was atypical for such a writing. The author made many valid observations but at the same time it was obvious that he had a liberal bias and his greater objective was to undermine conservative values while promoting mainstream liberal agendas such as the promotion of homosexuality and evolution. Doing so, the author attacked the Bible by pointing out flaws in the Bible that have been presented by liberal theologians and then drawing conclusions that these flaws reinforce the notion that the Bible is full of flaws. None of the arguments that the author presented are new and posed no threat to the Christian faith.
Yet what I found of more significance was the comment section of the article on the Newsweek website. One assessment that the writer harped on was the ignorance of what the Bible actually says by many Christians. His point was only partially correct in that he linked knowledge with liberal theology. It is incorrect to believe that a Christian is ignorant if they have little or no understanding of the liberal points of view. Yet the part of the critic that was correct is that many Christians do not have a basic understanding of the actual contents of the Bible; many Christians have not read their Bibles! Sadly, this fact was highlighted in the comment section as many professing Christians were attempting to defend scriptures by putting forth misinformation and unsound arguments. Yet what was of greater insight was the attack by all who were not professing Christians. Their attack was intense! They too had many commenters who are ignorant of the facts, both of the Bible and of other subjects, such as politics and science - particularly evolution. Many, many comments were accusing Christians of hypocrisy yet were laden with inconsistencies themselves, especially regarding the Bible.
The focal point of attack was the Bible itself. The Bible was attacked by political liberals, homosexuals, Muslims, and liberal religionist. The intensity of attack was at times very severe and venomous, all intending to destroy the Bible and the faith of those who believe. There was literally thousands of attacks on the Bible. The only thing worse would have been if all that hatred was pointed at Jesus Christ Himself; and if Jesus would have been the primary subject of the article that would have been the case. All of this reminded me of a time prior to when I became a child of God when I was with a small group of friends and someone mentioned the name “Jesus.” One guy went on a hate filled rant focused on attacking Jesus. It alarmed the rest of us in the discussion.
This hatred of the Bible, and Jesus Christ Himself, is a reality, and it is a reality that we must expect to confront us as well.
This morning we begin a new sermon series where we will be studying the Gospel of John over the course of the next year. I’m excited about the sermon series and so I won’t spend much time this morning on background information as I want to jump right in, but I do want to highlight one fact that we need to know before we begin the study. At the end of the book John the Apostle states "...these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name." (John 20:31) The Gospel of John is just that, a gospel message. As a gospel message its intent is to bring people to faith. The reason I’m excited about studying the book is that this study will help equip all of us at becoming more effective in evangelism. With that in mind our outline today will center on evangelism. The outline is as follows:
1) John 1:1-5 - The Message of Evangelism – Jesus Christ
2) John 1:6-13 - The Example of Evangelism
3) John 1:14-18 - The Goal of Evangelism
The “Message” of Evangelism – Jesus Christ
Today’s passage, the first eighteen verses of John chapter one, serve as the preface to the gospel. Here we will be introduce to several recurring topics that are found throughout the writing. You will notice with just a quick glance that John does not begin with the normal pleasantries that we find in the epistles. John also does not begin with any type of narrative but jumps straight into a theological argument heavy in metaphors. So let’s now turn to our text and see if we can’t make sense of what John is communicating here in his opening:
"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." "He was in the beginning with God." "All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being." "In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men." "The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it." (John 1:1-5)
Allow me to define some of these terms as intended, or at least how I believe that they were intended, here in these first five verses, then we will step back and look and the meaning of the thought and how it applies to evangelism.
In verse one, three times John uses the word “Word.” Many of you already know that the Greek word is lógos (λόγος) and that in the most basic etymological sense lógos will carry the idea of speaking intelligently. Yet lógos had additional meanings in the minds of both Greeks and Jews. For the Greek philosopher lógos was imbedded with the concept of there being an impersonal intelligence that gave order to the universe. This would be similar to how Einstein understood God. Or, for an alcoholic in recovery, they often use the term “Higher Power.” For someone like myself, while interacting with proponents of evolution, we will use the phrase “Intelligent Design” which implies that there is an intelligent designer. If you wade through the comments in the Newsweek article you will discover that I used the term there. The point is that lógos was an additional way to say God without actually saying the word “God.” This process to sidestep using the term “God” was also something that the Jews embellished as well. For the Jew, the word “God” was sacred and they often avoided using the term. One way they did so was to present God through notions derived from His sayings, usually taken from the Psalms and the wisdom literature (think of wisdom personified) after which they infused that impression of God into the word lógos. Thus for both the Greek and the Jew the term lógos was coupled with either a concept God Himself or an understanding of an impersonal deity like entity. The word lógos was infused with life.
The next term that I want to give definition to is “life” as seen in verse four. Throughout John’s gospel “life” will be a term that means more than just biological vitality. Life, for John, has an endless quantitative aspect to it. John’s “life” is life have richer meaning! If we limit our understanding of life to what we currently know it could hamper our desire to live beyond our projected lifespan. I recently read in a news article where pollsters asked people if they wanted to live longer than 120 years, and the vast majority said that they would not. That should come as no surprise to us! When we think of a lifespan we incorporate the aging process and physical pain, the results of sin and evil such as crime, and the need to deal with calamities over and over again. How many of us were alarmed when we watched on the news just prior to the New Year celebrations the stories of small kids suffering loss of digits and limbs due to unsafe fireworks? That would be disheartening to see over and over again as each year cycles by. Think of seeing that a thousand times, or even a million times. It would be discouraging to say the least. But this life is not what John has in mind. If you look closely at John 1:4 we see that in Christ is life. Christ is the source of life and the thought is more in line with the belief that life, or our meaning of life, is found in Christ, as we experience Him and His attributes. God wants His children to experience the richness of who He is, and He is infinite. God’s love is infinite thus it will take eternity for us to experience His love. God’s wisdom is infinite and it will therefore take us eternity to experience His wisdom. God’s knowledge, artistic nature, mercy are all infinite thus it will take us eternity to experience those attributes and qualities of Him. In Christ we discover the fullness of life in that we discover the fullness of the attributes of God. God wants to share with us the joy that He experiences, and that joy springs forth from Him, as it is the outcome of the attributes as they are a part of the composite of who He is. And this leads straight into our last term.
The last term that we want to bring definition to is “Light.” Again in John 1:4 we see that Jesus is light. Often in the scriptures light is used metaphorically to speak of the holiness of God and is contrasted with darkness. This will be partially the case here; but light is also an illuminator, and we need to incorporate that concept at this juncture in the Gospel of John. To illuminate is to bring into view something that is presently there. Let’s say you have a red rose in a vase that is inside a darkened room. Is the rose red even though you cannot see within the room due to a lack of light? Sure! Once you introduce the light you now see that the rose is already red. The light illuminated what was there.
So now let’s step back and see what it is that John is trying to communicate to us in John 1:1-5. In verse one we see that there is an entity whom John calls “word.” This entity was, is with, and is – God. The point that John is making is that this entity is both God as well as separate from God, yet this entity has characteristics that are divine. Picture if you will complete nothingness; nothing around us such as ourselves, the other people sitting near us, no houses or city, no nation or world, no sun nor moon nor stars, no universe whatsoever. Absolute nothing! This is what it was like prior to the beginning. Yet there was something – God. It was God who created everything. Yet John is telling us God was not alone for with Him was this entity called “word.” As a matter of fact, John 1:3 tells us that this entity called “word” is the actual creator. That is, the “Word” is the agent through which spoke into existence creation. Now we all know that the Word is Jesus Christ as revealed in John 1:14. How often have you thought of the creation account in Genesis chapter one and pictured in your mind that the one speaking “Let there be…” was Jesus Himself?
What is important for us to understand is that there are “two” persons involved at this time. This is some of the Biblical evidence for the deity of Jesus Christ; and this information is vital to understand and share with others when you evangelize. As Christians, we believe in a tri-fold God, yet here in John’s evangelistic effort he focuses on the deity of Christ and not on the trinity of the being of God. We too need to help others understand that Jesus Christ is God.
In the Newsweek article the writer did mock the doctrine of the trinity and therefore many of the comments mocked it as well. Yet the writer did not touch on the deity of Christ, but if he did I’m sure many would have mocked that doctrine as well. However it is the doctrine of the deity of Christ that brings sense to many doctrines of the Bible. Thus it is vital that you understand and share this truth. In our context many people will have a convoluted understanding of who Jesus Christ actually is. For the Catholics they will give lip service to the doctrine of the deity of Christ but then they will undermine the doctrine by introducing the notion that Mary is the mother of God. In the beginning was nothing - except God, hence to introduce Mary would require the Catholics to state that Mary was existent prior to creation such as was Jesus. Nowhere in the Bible does it teach that. Many Catholics will think of Jesus as being the ultimate example of suffering for us to follow. Yet if that is all they think of then they will not understand that Christ was, and is, fully God. Jesus Christ existed prior to creation! Jesus Christ “was,” He “was,” with God – meaning that He is a second person! Last, with the doctrine that “Jesus Christ is God,” this necessitates that God has at least two persons that compose His being. Here in the first three verses of his evangelistic message John has set the foundation for the doctrine of the Deity of Christ, which is the starting place for the doctrine of the Trinity. Furthermore, the Igelsia ni Cristo members, the Mormons, the Muslims, followers of Sikhism who sit outside the Indian Sari-sari store in the next sub-division, and even the Oneness Pentecostals here in the Philippines, all will reject the deity of Jesus Christ. If we truly want to fulfill the Great Commission then we need to do as John did and explain that Jesus is the second person of God (of the triune God), who existed before time, and is the agent who spoke into existence all of creation. There is no by-passing this step! We need to attempt to correct bad doctrines regarding Christ.
Now in verses four and five of the first chapter of John we discover that found in Jesus is life, and this life is illuminated by Him. Earlier I equated life with experiencing the attributes of God. Yet God is Spirit! God displays His glory in a tremendous display of lights that is unviewable by man. Thus how can mankind engage the attributes of God? The answer is in the metaphor that Jesus is light. Jesus illuminates the attributes of God so that mankind may know God; mankind can behold and interact with God. This is the point that John was driving at when he stated essentially that the fullness of life can be experienced by mankind when we view and respond to the attributes of God as displayed by Jesus Christ. After this prelude we will start to discover, in a small and limited way, limited when compared with what is yet to come, these attributes of God, when we learn of the life of Christ.
John 1:6-13 - The Example of Evangelism
Let’s now look at John the Baptist’s (John B) example of evangelism and glean some insight that will build us up in preparations for personal evangelism. I have been told many times that the reason most church members here at GCF do not evangelize is that we are not trained in evangelism; but I suspect that there is a greater reason. That greater reason we will discover in the next eight verses.
"There came a man sent from God, whose name was John." "He came as a witness, to testify about the Light, so that all might believe through him." "He was not the Light, but he came to testify about the Light." "There was the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man." "He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him." "He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him." "But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name," "who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God." John 1:6–13
Here we discover John B involved in ministry. Not only was he involved in ministry but he had an end goal to his ministry and that was to help people “believe.” John the Apostle (John A) does not tell us here in this passage what exactly John B wanted the people to believe, but we know from the other gospels that John B wanted the people to know that coming after him was Israel’s Messiah. Here we see that the task of ministry is to help people believe, and for us, the Church who has the completed revelation, we know that we are to help people believe the gospel of Jesus Christ. (1. We are sinners as demonstrated by comparing ourselves against the holiness of God which was in part revealed in the Law, 2. Jesus Christ, being God, lived a sinless life thus qualifying Himself to be the sacrifice and substitute for the penalty of our guilt, 3. Jesus died for sins, 4. Jesus rose from the dead and thus has power over sin and death from a legal point of view, which is necessary to guard the integrity and holiness of God when He grants us forgiveness.)
However, to help people believe something means that we need to transmit information to them. We need to speak to people directly, or we need to give people something to read that explains the gospel and then somehow make sure that the people actually read it (many times we may need to read it to them), or we need to either bring people to a place where they can hear the gospel or bring someone to them that will explain the gospel to them. Regardless of how we transmit the information, it is our task to oversee the actual transmission of that information!
The primary obstacle is not our ability to transmit the information; God has designed the gospel to be simple enough for children to understand and communicate. In John 1:10-11 we see that Jesus was the light illuminating God to both the world and the Jewish people who in turn rejected Jesus. Herein is our barrier to evangelism; our fear of rejection. I am amazed at how young children, six or seven years old, are already forming within them a fear of rejection. How many of you have heard the expression “what if they laugh at me” coming from the mouth of a small child?
I cannot lie to you, rejection and mockery is a part of evangelism. Jesus was rejected in verses ten and eleven! John B was rejected to the point that he literally lost his head! John A was rejected and sent into exile! The Bible was mocked at in that Newsweek article that I read a few weeks ago. A few years ago I was at a funeral service where the priest led the people in praying the rosary and he mocked us by saying that we (believers) believe that at the point a person expires their destiny is set and how much greater is their (Catholic) belief in that they can still pray for the person and move them into heaven. Rejection and mockery is a part of evangelism! And it’s this rejection that feeds our fear. But the problem is not the rejection but rather the fear, and here shortly we will look at a truth that will help us overcome that fear. Before we get there, let’s dwell on another truth that we uncover in this section. In John 1:13 we see that there is a second birth that takes place in salvation, a second birth that John will unfold later in this gospel, and that this second birth is in response to the will of God.
In verse thirteen we see John dismissing three persons or groups regarding who is responsible for salvation. The first is referred to as “blood” and is representing heritage. Most Jews believed that they were heirs of salvation due to the fact that they were Jews. Yet John dismisses that thought here and has already stated that to “believe” is the determinate when it comes to salvation. There are two notions that are introduced here, the first is that a second birth is required, and second, that it is not automatic based on heritage. Not every created being is a child of God! Furthermore, God has no spiritual grandchildren! For us this has a profound impact; our children are not Christian until they themselves place their faith in the gospel message. As a church we do have a solid Sunday School program and material as well as the AWANA program. Both of these tools are for your benefit in aiding you with sharing the gospel with your child. Yet, your children will respond to you more so than they will respond to us! I’ve heard criticism directed at the church of how we allowed young people to walk away from the faith due to a lack of programs. Yet the simple fact is that the young people did not walk away, they never believed the gospel and walked in. Parents, do not assume that your children are Christians – God has no spiritual grandchildren!
The second dismissal of John in verse thirteen are those who “will” salvation for themselves (flesh). People try to earn their own salvation and this is simply an act of vanity. People see themselves as self-righteous thus they believe that they do not need a savior, or that the need is minor. People believe their own religious efforts will merit salvation. The last group are those who “will” salvation by means of a third part such as being in the right religion or being declared righteous by some type of holy-man. This too is vanity! John’s point is that salvation is from God! It is true that people must believe, but they believe what Christ has done, they believe that Christ will forgive. God made possible the gospel and He, through His providence, brought them to a point where they heard the gospel. The implications for us is that all that is required of us is to share the gospel, and leave the actual regeneration to God.
At a recent Leadership Council meeting we were given some disheartening statistics regarding the growth of the church. This year the Elders want to address this issue head-on. Yet the Sunday before we received the data Elder Lito and I were observing how some children from one of our outreach communities were here at church without their parents. Outreach is happening. Pastor Tony shared last week how doors were open for him to evangelize the BIR. On some Saturdays we have as many as 25 unchurched kids joining our AWANA program. The stories could go on. Yet the anxiety of us all regarding the rate of growth is a real issue! We need to evaluate our efforts, continue to evangelize, and rely on the Lord for growth.
!!John 1:14-18 - The Goal of Evangelism
This understanding on how we need to trust God while we all evangelize the lost, whom we know and interact with, brings us to our last point. Let’s return to our text:
"And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth." "John testified about Him and cried out, saying, “This was He of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me.’” "For of His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace." "For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ." "No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him." John 1:14–18
John now tells us that this “word,” or in other words the abstract second person who is both with God while being God, has become human. As mentioned previously we know this as being the second person of the triune God, the God-man Jesus Christ. John also told us that Jesus possesses all the attributes that can bring meaning and depth to our lives, for the richness of life is from God, and He has willed that we experience this life. We then saw that it is Jesus who illuminates these attributes so that we can see and understand. Whoever believes will experience all of this thus they need to be told the message in order to believe. We also have seen that rejection is a part of the process. Many will reject the message, but it is not us that they reject, but rather it is Jesus Christ. “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory.” God became man so as to communicate to mankind who He is. It is as simple as that. When we evangelize we must communicate the fact that God became man so that we can understand God. This is a simple fact that we all already know, but is it something that we communicate to others? This we may not be doing? God wants them to know Him. How many times have we heard here in church, or in a sermon that we heard elsewhere, a simple analogy that the best way to communicate to a bird where to find bird food is to become a bird and lead the other bird to the food? Or, if you want to communicate to an ant then you become an ant. It is an allegory that is usually told when discussing this same passage that we are studying today, and it is told to help us as believers understand this truth. But what John is doing is teaching this truth in an evangelistic setting. We don’t need to hear the analogy once again, we need to be sharing it with non-believers so as to help them understand the effort that God went to in order to share His love with them – and all of humanity. The context is evangelistic. And I want us to reinforce this notion and note at this time the two characteristics that John included and that are seen at the end of verse fourteen; grace and truth.
Why “grace” and “truth?” Why did John not add love and compassion? Those are qualities of God. If God’s intent was to bring people to feeding programs or to involve them in disaster relief then maybe these would have been included. Yet God’s attribute of “grace” is the means of our salvation and “truth” is what one must believe in order to be saved. Both grace and truth are central for salvation. In addition to God being gracious to us at the time of our salvation, His grace does not end there. In John 1:16 John describes that the fullness of God we have received, and this we know came with the birth of Jesus Christ when God became man. Because of the work of Christ we can experience God’s grace, yet grace is not a onetime event. We read that it is “grace upon grace.”
Picture if you will a scene at the beach with the waves rolling in. One wave soon followed by a second wave which is then followed by yet another wave. These waves are a picture of God’s grace. The waves always come, what changes is the size of the wave. What causes larger waves is the weather conditions on the ocean or sea. We have been seeing on the news that the recovery efforts for the lost AirAsian plane has been dampened due to the wind and the waves. The wind is what is causing the larger waves. We see it here at the Batangas pier when ferry services are cancelled due to storms and the waves that they generate. The currents that move the waters of the oceans are always there, it is the size of the wave that changes due to the harsh weather conditions on the surface of the sea. In a similar way, God’s has always been a gracious God, but His grace is amplified due to sin. Only once we see our sin can we then respond to His grace! That is what John is alluding to in verse seventeen when he says that the “Law was given through Moses.” With the Law we recognize our need for forgiveness, and this recognition allows God to extend His grace.
This is a fundamental aspect of evangelism, helping people realize that they are sinners! Notice that in verse seventeen “Law” came before “Grace.” We should never shy away from calling sin “Sin!” One of the major motivations behind the Newsweek article that attacked the Bible was, it appears, to try and get Christians to stop calling sins, such as homosexuality, as being indeed “sin.” If they can undermine the source that reveals God’s moral standard then they can ease the pain produced by their conscience in an attempt to justify their sins. We as Christians do not need to tell a person that they are a sinner, that is the Holy Spirits task, but rather we only need to call what God declares sinful as being “sin.”
Getting back to my thoughts on God’s grace, after we respond to God’s gracious offer of salvation His grace does not end there. It is “grace upon grace,” or in other words, “wave after wave.” The harsher the conditions the larger the waves. Earlier I mentioned that I would share some insight into how we can overcome our fear of rejection which often impedes us in evangelizing; the solution is God’s grace! God’s is continuously gracious and He will extend His grace to us when we evangelize, if we are willing to believe (as demonstrated by us actually evangelizing). It is God’s will that salvation occurs. It is also God’s will that we as the Church be the one who will “make disciples,” which begins with us sharing the gospel so that others may hear and believe. God will convict those whom He has chosen, and the rest will freely reject His offer. Yet it all begins with us sharing the gospel, and I venture to say that this begins with us believing that God will continue to flood us with His grace so as to aid us in overcoming our fears.
Last week Pastor Tony had us recite John 3:16 and challenged us with the notion that sharing the gospel is as easy as sharing John 3:16. You may need to add a verse or two more so as to bring complete clarity, but essentially he is correct. We don’t necessarily need more training, we need more faith, and grace. Yet the grace is already present, we just may not recognize it as there are no storms created by the fear we all experience while evangelizing. Yet if you step out and evangelize you will see and experience that grace.
John closes his prelude by summarizing the truth that no one has seen the Father but Christ who will make the Father known.
Adoniram Judson was a missionary who lived 200 years ago or so. As a child he was told the gospel message by his parents. Adoniram had a clear understanding of the gospel but as a young person he choose not to believe. In college Adoniram became a skeptic and deist (god is a non-trinity creator who walked away from his creation) by being influenced by a classmate. After both walking away from his faith, and his schooling, several years later Adoniram was traveling and one night stopped at an inn to rest. Yet that night he was unable to sleep as in the room next to his was a man who was suffering from an infection and was literally on his death bed. Due to his inability to sleep young Adoniram wrestled with the gospel message and was beginning to recognize his sin and guilt before a holy God. In the middle of the night the sounds of suffering ceased and the next morning the inn keeper informed him that the man in the next room did indeed perish. When Adoniram inquired into who the deceased was to his horror he discovered that it was his classmate who lead him away from his faith back in college. With that Adoniram placed his faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ and afterwards even returned to college where he finished his studies and then sailed off into history as the first American missionary.
Our task is evangelism; it is God who will bring life from the seeds that we plant. As we study the book of John this year always remember the verse we began with; "...these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name." (John 20:31) The book of John was written as a gospel message that should be shared. As we study the life of Christ I challenge you to share the stories that you will learn here in church with your family and friends, anticipating that God will do great things.
To God be the glory.