The Witness of the Word of God

Image by awsloley from Pixabay 

Third Sunday of Advent

Isaiah 61:1-11

1 Thessalonians 5:16-24

John 1:6-28

Psalm 126

The opening of John is powerful. Here are the first five verses. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God.All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.In him was life; and the life was the light of men.And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it notKJV Most translations end verse five with something like this; the darkness has not overcome itNIV Think about each of those statements. Not only has darkness, i.e. evil, not overcome the light, darkness does not even understand the light.

Today’s reading begins with, A man called John was sent by God as a witness to the light, so that any man who heard his testimony might believe in the light. This man was not himself the light: he was sent simply as a personal witness to that lightPhillips

For John, the idea of witnesses of the light was the essence of the Gospel. Frederick F. Bruce, an important recent theologian (died 1990), wrote this: The witness to the truth of God’s self-revelation in the Word is manifold. It comprises the witness of the Father, of the Son, of the Spirit; the witness of the works of Christ, the witness of the scriptures, the witness of the disciples, including that of the disciple whom Jesus loved. The purpose of this manifold witness, as of John’s witness, is “that all might believe”; it is the purpose for which the Gospel itself was written. Bruce, F.F.. The Gospel of John: A Verse-by-Verse Exposition, 1983, 2018.

With all those witnesses why isn’t the whole world following in the footsteps of Jesus? Because most of us do not comprehend what they see and hear.

The word Genesis is the Hebrew word that is translated In the beginning. John wants us to see the coming of Jesus the Messiah to earth as the beginning, or the new beginning.

He was in the world that had come into being through himNJB When God spoke, Let there be light, His Son—the Word—set about creating light. I think it is helpful to envision God as the architect of the universe and His Son as the builder of the universe. Picture Jesus in a hard hat.

In verse 10, we read, He was in the world but the world, although it owed its existence to him, failed nevertheless to recognize himFF Bruce translation Jesus, the Son of God, created light, but we could not see him when he walked among us.

John is additionally presenting the Word as Creator of the universe and the Word as a living human—one in the same. The Word creates humans, and the Word becomes human. The Word has always existed in the universe, but only lived as the human Word for a few years.

Both Genesis and John assume that only God’s Word created anything that exists. Evil was not created separately from God. Evil happened within the framework of the universe when humans rejected the Word of God. That rejection was possible because God gave humans the ability to make our own decisions.

Verses 12-13 can be a tricky read. I think this read smoothies it out nicely. But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from GodNLT

FF Bruce writes of this birth this way; Spiritual birth and the new life to which it is the gateway are prominent themes in the Gospel of John. In John 3:4, Nicodemus struggles with the concept of a new birth, a spiritual birth.

Verse 14 is one of the most important of the chapter. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truthESV By the time this Gospel was written, many ‘followers’ were already preaching that it was not possible for God to actually be a human; Jesus either appeared to be human much like some angels could walk among us, or Jesus took over the body of a human and did his thing.

This is what FF Bruch writes on the issue. It is evident from the first two epistles of John that a form of docetism was widespread in the area in which the Johannine literature appeared—a teaching which denied that Jesus Christ had “come in the flesh” and disunited the earthly Jesus from the heavenly Christ. Here and there the Gospel of John betrays awareness of this teaching and uses a form of words which excludes it. The Evangelist might have declared in the present text that the eternal Word took manhood or assumed a bodily form, but no such declaration would have been so uncompromisingly anti-docetic as the declaration that “the Word became flesh.” The humanity, the “flesh,” which was taken by the divine Word at that point in time was and remains as perfect as his divine nature; yet it is our human nature (apart from sin) that he took, and not some “heavenly humanity” of a different order.

Docetism continued to plague the early church, at its height controlling at least half of the churches, and it continues to crop up throughout church history, even today.

How can God be human?

And yet, a clear reading of Genesis 1 & 2 clearly state that humans are like God, made in His image, made in their image.

And that brings us back to John the Baptist. And it was about him that John stood up and testified, exclaiming: “Here is the one I was speaking about when I said that although he would come after me he would always be in front of me; for he existed before I was born!” Phillips

It is interesting that when we read the Gospel of John, the only time the name John appears is about the Baptist. John the Apostle simply refers to himself as the “disciple whom Jesus loved.”

Now this was John’s testimony when the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was. He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, “I am not the Messiah.” They asked him, “Then who are you? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” He answered, “No.” Finally they said, “Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, “I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’” Now the Pharisees who had been sent questioned him, “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” “I baptize withwater,” John replied, “but among you stands one you do not know. He is the one who comes after me, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.” This all happened at Bethany on the other side of the Jordan, where John was baptizingNIV

It is likely that John, like Jesus, was questioned several times by the authorities and this passage is a neat summary of all questions. John remained steadfast in his understanding of the mission given to him by God. He never doubted that he was to lay the groundwork for the Messiah. Even though he and Jesus were cousins and born six months apart; and though John himself recognized Jesus in the womb at six months, John was just a guy trying to do God’s will.

We know little about John, but we know what is important.

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

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