Living for Eternity: A Study in John’s Gospel
In the Beginning was the Word
Turn to John 1. It is hard to believe that it has been two years since I came to fill in at Elim for a Sunday. Of course, at the time Anne and I had no idea that we would ever come here. But driving home after having lunch at Larry and Cheryl’s we said to each other, if I ever went to a church as a senior pastor, that would be a great church. At the time, I had just completed a course on the Gospel of John. And I preached here downstairs during Covid on John 1. And I know you all remember that and my exact points! I later touched on Nicodemus in John 3 a while ago on a Sunday night. And that is as far as it has gone. So, I have been wanting to do a series in John for a while.
There are two purposes in preaching and teaching. One is to learn. To learn new truths that we may not have yet realized in our Christian walk. And under learning as well, to be reminded of things we already know. So that we learn to appreciate them in a deeper way. But the second thing is that we are motivated to love and serve Christ in a deeper fashion because we know more about Him. This is why church is not optional. For Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the church, the Lover of the church, the Sanctifier of the church, and the Purchaser of the church, has also said, do not forsake meeting together. As our Lord knew as humans the great need we have to know truth, to be reminded of truth, and to be challenged to love and serve Christ.
It is interesting in the Gospel of John, how different it is from the other three gospels: Matthew, Mark, and Luke. The Gospel of John, was written by the Apostle John, and who never refers to himself by name in the book, but only as the disciple whom Jesus loved. The book does not mention anything about the transfiguration, the Lord’s Supper, the Sermon on the Mount, the temptation of Christ in the wilderness, or the garden of Gethsemane. There is no casting out of demons, and there are no parables given by Jesus. It is believed that John was written later in the first century, as the other gospels were written earlier. And therefore, John looks back with considerable knowledge of what has already occurred, and even with much of the teaching of Paul. Now, what is unique to John is the account of Jesus and Nicodemus and the account of Jesus and the woman at the well. As it very much focuses on personal encounters with Christ. The Gospel of John is also much more doctrinal than the other three gospels. It teaches us much of the Trinity of God, and the deity of Christ.
Interestingly enough as the book of Matthew begins with the account of the physical birth of Christ and the story of the Magi. And the book of Mark speaks about Jesus coming to John and being baptized. And of course, we all know that it is in Luke where Jesus is introduced in the stable and the wonderful story of the angels and the shepherds. But the Gospel of John is very different, as it begins much earlier than any of the others. Listen to the words of John the Apostle as he begins his book.
“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. And the Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overtake it.”
John 1:1-5 (LSB)
What I like about John is that John goes much beyond the information about Christ. He seems to have a “wonderment” about his Lord, or we could say that he had a fascination with Christ. It is also good to know the purpose of a book when doing a study, and sometimes that can be hard to find. But not with John’s gospel, for he clearly states his purpose for writing in the second last chapter (John 20:30-31).
“Therefore many other signs Jesus also did in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but 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 20:30-31 (LSB)
“And that by believing you may have life.” You might say, okay Mark, so the book of John is for the unbeliever because it is telling us things so that we would believe and have life. Well, that is only part of John’s intention. For we are going to see massive tension in the Gospel of John, where he will speak about believing as ongoing believing. Because any other kind of faith that does not include ongoing belief in Christ is dead faith. John 15:6: “If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned.” In other words, true faith is an ongoing faith, abiding faith. And this is part of our ongoing, abiding faith; as we discover more and more truths about Christ and His Word. We believe, and we have life. Do you ever think that we can make it on our own without God’s Word, without God’s truth on a daily basis? No, life comes from the Word and therefore we must continually suck it up. Like we cannot live without God’s truth. Because it is the one who believes, it is the one who feeds on the Word of God, John says in chapter ten it is the one who believes, that nobody can pluck that person out of God’s hand. So, this gospel was written to unbelievers, so that they would believe. And it was written to believers so that they would keep on believing. Because John will also tell us that many believed in Him but eventually they walked away. For those who were truly saved by Christ, gained eternal life from Christ, which is the central theme of this book, life. The overwhelming theme of John’s Gospel is life.
I wrote in my announcement about this series that the word life is used forty-two times in the Legacy Standard Bible. Thirty-six times it is the Greek word zōē which means to have a living soul, vigorous, active life, an aliveness. A few times it is the word zōopoieō which gives the indication of arousing or to make alive. The old KJ word “to quicken.” I believe we would all agree that we like all those words. Especially for those of us getting older, the thought of arousing and making alive is pretty appealing. I have been working on a front rose garden at our new home. And digging up some sod and it has been some tough sledding. And I am thinking that sod is stubborn. Now, of course, it couldn’t be that I am getting old. Every time I start hockey in October, I used to think that if I would lose four to five pounds each year, I could be as fast as the year before. But the problem is that you can only go so far with that because eventually you sort of rot away to nothing.
But seriously, John addresses a very relevant issue. The whole issue of life, real vigorous life, when the problem we have as a human race is that we are a dying race. Last Sunday night we looked at the passage in Matthew 16 regarding the church, and that the gates of Hades (or death) cannot prevail against the church. And the understanding of that verse is that the death contained behind those gates which hold every human being cannot contain the Christian. For the Christian has been given life (zōē) from Christ. And therefore, those who are true believers in His church, those gates of death cannot prevail against them. So, let’s pray before we begin this most excellent book. Lord, we come before You this morning so grateful for Your Word. Especially as we encounter such a book as the Gospel of John. A book about life. For John will speak about eternal life, he will speak about from death to life, resurrected to life, how to have life, and how Christ gives life. Jesus is the bread of life, He is the Light of life, He is the way, the truth, and the life, and how Christ laid down His life for His sheep. So, may we see life in such a new way, by being overwhelmed with a fascination of Christ, amen.
John 1:1. John starts by saying “in the beginning.” Now, if we understand the genealogies in the Bible, if you take them literally, the earth is approximately 6,000 years old. And it would be hard to argue with the genealogies, as the Lord has gone to great lengths to make things clear in Genesis 5 and Genesis 11. And I would suggest that you can work through those for the next one thousand years and you will not find any gaps. And Genesis 1-2 makes it quite clear that the earth and everything in the universe were created in those first six days. Now if you asked how old God is? That is another question. And the Bible helps us with this, so that we are able to know the facts, though we might struggle with the understanding. For how far back do you have to go to see when God came into existence? Actually the Bible tells us that God has always existed. And the term “in the beginning” only references the time prior to the 6-day creation, which I would suggest is also the same time (during that 6-day creation) when God created Satan. And the angels, both the Holy angels and those who, at some point after creation, chose to follow Satan, the fallen angels. The Psalmist wrote:
“Before the mountains were born Or You brought forth the earth and the world, Even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God.”
Ps 90:2 (LSB)
So young people, when someone says that the universe began with some kind of Big Bang. And the Big Bang is completely rational. For it was the moment 13.8 billion years ago (and counting, as it keeps getting longer than that) when the universe began as a tiny, dense, fireball that exploded. That explains everything, doesn’t it? We know it did not. Because in the beginning was God. And long before 13.8 billions of years ago, the Father, the Son, and the HS existed, until there was a time “in the beginning” when God created. How long is that “in the beginning” before creation? There is no time, there is no such thing as time, for time did not exist prior to creation. The biblical writer Jude somehow realized this as he says:
“to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, might, and authority, before all time and now and forever.
Jude 25 (LSB)
So, the timeline according to the Bible, God has made very simple. For God could not explain to us something that we would never understand. For there is no way for us to understand how God could exist forever, with no beginning. So, He simply describes it as “in the beginning.” “In the beginning” and then creation. And then someday God will rule this earth in the Millennial Kingdom, followed by an eternal kingdom. In other words, eternity past, present-day earth, and then the eternal kingdom.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.”
John 1:1-2 (LSB)
God, whom the Bible teaches as a triune God, who exists as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, which this Gospel will address in later weeks. And the Word here in this passage is Jesus Christ. And we know this because John will go on to tell us in (vs 14).
“And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
John 1:14 (LSB)
The Word refers to Jesus Christ. And remember it is John who is going to tell us about Jesus. As it was John who lived with Christ for 3-1/2 years. This is the same John who wrote 1/2/3 John and the book of the Revelation. So, listen to how he begins 1 John:
“What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we beheld and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life—and the life was manifested, and we have seen and bear witness and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us—what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also.”
1 John 1:1-3a (LSB)
John likes to be repetitive as he describes much of his experiences and understandings of Jesus over and over again. You will likely be glad that I will not be as slow doing a verse-by-verse study as I was with the Peters. Now it may take us just as long, as it is twenty-one chapters, as the two books of Peter were only eight chapters. But we will go a little quicker because John will repeat a number of things. I love how John Piper describes the Apostle’s writing. He says that John is like a bee at a flower. For it keeps busy around the same flower from many different angles, but always the same flower. As John will describe, go into great depth about Christ from many different angles. So that we will get it. So that we will believe and keep on believing. Because there is a great importance for the Christian to have his mind, fixed on the Person of Jesus Christ. Piper says this is the point of the beginning of John’s gospel:
“He means for us to read this Gospel worshipfully, humbly, submissively, awestruck that the man at the wedding and at the well and on the mountain is Creator of the universe … [John] will stun you and blow you away with the identity of this man who became flesh and dwelt among us. So there is no mistaking. John means for us to read every word of this Gospel with the clear, solid, amazed knowledge that Jesus Christ was with God and was God and that the one who laid down his life for us (John 15:13) created the universe. John wants you to know and believe in a magnificent Savior. Whatever else you may enjoy about Jesus, John wants you to know and treasure Jesus in his infinite majesty.”
- W. Tozer says something similar about the beginning of John’s gospel and his emphasis on the age of God:
“We can say, ‘I believe in the eternity of God,’ and be on good footing theologically. But, oh, the wonder of a passage like this that transcends [our thinking]!”
- W. Tozer
Why is Jesus called here the “Word,” the Greek word logos? Difficult to know. Jesus does say in John 14, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” John sees Jesus as the revelation of God. That Christ actually becomes the message of salvation to the world. Jesus Himself said that he came to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice. Therefore, Jesus in a sense is the Word. He is the final authority. Everything He says is true. Every soul that has ever existed will be judged by Christ. Christ has the final say regarding the destiny of every person who will ever live. It is Jesus’ final word that will declare, “Well done thou good and faithful servant.” Or His final word, “Depart from Me for I never knew you.” And when God pulls the plug on your life and my life, or when God decides to pull the plug on the world, though we hear many voices today, only the truth of Christ will matter. In the beginning was the Word. Before anything else existed, there was the Godhead, who breathed life into His creation. The Smithsonian Institute states this on its website:
“The earliest life forms we know of were microscopic organisms (microbes) that left signals of their presence in rocks about 3.7 billion years old. The signals consisted of a type of carbon molecule that is produced by living things. Evidence of microbes was also preserved in the hard structures they made, which date to 3.5 billion years ago. Stromatolites are created as sticky mats of microbes trap and bind sediments into layers. Minerals precipitate inside the layers, creating durable structures even as the microbes die off. Scientists study today’s, rare living stromatolite reefs to better understand Earth’s earliest life forms.”
I bet you did not know that! Wendy Freedman of the University of Chicago is heading a project to build the Giant Magellan Telescope. The first planning started in 2004 and it is expected to be completed by 2029. Now there is nothing wrong with building a big telescope. And this project with the help of many other universities and scientific institutions, I am sure will be absolutely magnificent. The University said this:
“When it’s finished, we’ll be able to glimpse back to the birth of the galaxy, it might even be able to find signs of life outside of our solar system. Wendy talked with me about her revolutionary work and why she thinks one of the greatest discoveries in the universe might be just around the corner.”
University of Chicago, https://news.uchicago.edu/podcasts/big-brains/expanding-universe-wendy-freedman
There is something comforting for the human to understand something. It gives a certain amount of control if we can figure out where everything came from or where man came from, at least we think it does anyway. It is interesting that the article on the Smithsonian website was entitled “In the Beginning.” And though some of these statements, though seemingly brilliant, come from a spiritual ignorance, and also come from a heart of arrogance that denies and suppresses the evidence of a Creator. So much so, that though (Romans 1) they profess to be wise, God calls them fools. For John tells us that “In the beginning was the Word.” And though we actually have little understanding of “in the beginning,” we do know the Person. It was God. And it was God who inspired the Apostle John to write his gospel so that we would believe. And part of believing or faith, is admitting that we do not know all things, and therefore, we are willing to trust the God who does. The new telescope is going to be huge, as it will be as tall as the Statue of Liberty. And will be capable of bringing in deep space objects 200x closer than any other telescope today. That’s amazing! But how big is God? David wrote:
“When I see Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, The moon and the stars, which You have established … O Yahweh, our Lord, How majestic is Your name in all the earth!”
Ps 8:3, 9 (LSB)
David was astounded as he looked into the heavens and realized the vastness of not God, but just God’s creation, “all things came into being through [Christ].” I am sure of one thing, the new telescope will likely reveal that the universe is even bigger than we think. Because as telescopes get bigger, they reveal more and more of the bigness of God’s creation.
“In the beginning.” If we peel back all the years. And we go back throughout the generations. And go back to when the first settlers came to North America. And go back to the Middle Ages. And go back to the time of the early church. And go back before Christ, before Solomon, before Moses, before Abraham. Before Adam, before the creation of the angels, before the six days of creation, back before even “time” began. Yet we haven’t even taken a step, for we are now “in the beginning.” A limitless time consisting of God the Father and God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. “In the beginning” was only the starting point, when God extended life into His creation. And when John begins his letter, later giving the purpose, “so that we might believe,” he wants to make something clear to us from the get-go. Something that the disciples had to learn along the way. As John and James and Peter were learning but did not fully grasp until later on of who Christ really was. As they spent much of those 3-1/2 years marveling at the miracles and trying to understand everything that Christ taught them, But John here, years later, wants us to know from the start. Piper says John does not want to leave us in suspense, but reveals who Christ is.
“In the beginning was the Word [Jesus Christ], and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.”
John 1:1-2 (LSB)
And this same Christ came to live on the earth. And this same Christ offers us life. And this is the same Christ who created all things, “apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.” That is truly amazing! As Jesus made things that are so small. Scientists have discovered what they call “quarks,” which are one-tenth to the power of eighteen a grain of sand. To help you understand that, it is the same relationship of a grain of sand to the size of the earth, as it is of one quark to the size of a grain of sand. Christ created this smallness! And bigness? To help you understand this, if we could travel at the speed of light we would travel around the earth in seven times in one second. And if we could travel at the speed of light into space, it is believed that it would take us 93 billion years to hit the end of the known universe. And when that new telescope is completed, it will likely be seen to be bigger than that. And there is not one quark, not one mega-star, not one mind, not one butterfly; that Jesus did not create. And therefore John wants us to know these things so that we would believe. Let’s pray. Lord, we worship You this morning. You are an amazing God! I pray that each one here this morning would understand these things so that we would believe, while we still have breath. And all God’s people said, amen.