Life & Light in the World
Open your Bibles to John 1 this morning. You might put a bookmark in John because this morning, we start a study that will last us for several months to come.
As you are turning there, let me ask you: Does it seem like the world is getting darker around you right now?
We have hinted at it before, but doesn’t it seem like people are growing angrier by the day, that disease is running unchecked, and that life is just getting worse?
Perhaps it is a result of social media or professional peddlers of fear, but right now, life seems kinda scary; so much so that Steve from Blues Clues released a video this week, talking to us like we were toddlers again, and reassuring us that we are doing a good job.
Sure, that may sound comforting for a minute, but it doesn’t really solve the issue, does it?
What is the solution to the problems in the world around us?
What we are going to see over the next few months in the Gospel of John is that the solution is found in the person of Jesus Christ.
In fact, when we are tempted to despair because the darkness seems to be winning, we only need to go back to this first chapter to see that no matter how bad it seems, there is life and light in the world through Christ.
Since we are going to spend some time in this book, let me give you a brief summary of some background on it.
Written by the Apostle John in late 1st century, possibly around 80 AD
Different than the other three gospels—called synoptics—but not contradictory:
“John and the Synoptics were designed by the divine Spirit to supplement each other. They ‘represent an interlocking tradition, that is…they mutually reinforce or explain each other’....”
(John MacArthur quoting D.A. Carson et. al.)
John arranges his content around certain themes, not chronologically (especially noticeable in the Temple cleansing in 2:13-22)
We are fortunate that, towards the end of his book, John has given us a clear statement of his purpose in writing the book:
Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples that are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
John’s prologue follows a similar theme. He begins with a beautiful description of Christ and then discusses the two ways people respond to him.
As we get ready to look at this passage, know that we are not going to be able to cover every nuance of every word. If we did, it would take us years to get through John’s gospel.
In fact, throughout our study, we are going to be moving quicker than we have through Acts and some other passages recently.
This morning, we are going to look at some of the incredible ways God communicates through John in setting the stage for the rest of what he will write in his gospel.
We are going to scratch the surface and seek to answer two main questions this morning: Who is Jesus, and how should I respond to him?
If you aren’t familiar with this passage, just know that John uses a lot of figures of speech here. We are going to loop back around and try to explain some of them, although we can’t dive deep into all of them.
Read John 1:1-18 with me.
Let’s dive in and look at it along those lines:
1) Who is Jesus?
1) Who is Jesus?
From the very first words John writes, he is establishing for us that Jesus isn’t just some good teacher or even a miracle worker.
Instead, he states upfront that Jesus is fully God.
The language he uses here points us back to Genesis 1 and the way God created the world.
John refers to Jesus as “the Word” here, and he makes it clear that the Word is himself God, just like God the Father is God.
As he does, we see a picture emerge that we want to dig into this morning.
All of this points to what John says in verse 4, which is that Jesus is...
A) The Source of Life (1-4a)
A) The Source of Life (1-4a)
John starts off by saying that the Word, Jesus, was there “in the beginning.”
What beginning? THE beginning…the very dawn of time.
If you go back to the moment when God first began creating the heavens and the earth and everything in them, you find Jesus already there.
He makes that clear in verse 2...
There’s an important point in that verse: If nothing has been created that Jesus didn’t create, that means that Jesus was never created!
Think about this for a moment: Jesus is the one who actually did the creating of the world and everything in it! As the Father spoke, Jesus shaped every aspect of Creation under the watchful eye of the Holy Spirit.
Paul makes this even more clear in writing to the church at Colossae:
For everything was created by him, in heaven and on earth, the visible and the invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities— all things have been created through him and for him.
He created everything, even those things in the spiritual realm that we don’t fully understand.
He is the source and author of life, both spiritually and physically.
John is going to show us this more clearly as we go throughout the gospel and see Jesus’ power to restore health and life and control the creation he has made.
He doesn’t stop there, though.
As the source of life, he is also...
B) The Source of Light (4b-9)
B) The Source of Light (4b-9)
Remember where we talked about the light pushing back the darkness?
Let’s look at it again in context. Start in verse 4-9...
We are going to largely skip over the information about John here, because we will talk more about him next week. For those who aren’t familiar, though, this isn’t the John who wrote this book. This was another man named John who got people ready for Jesus’ ministry by preaching and teaching and baptizing them.
Setting that aside for a bit, then, what do we see that the Apostle John is teaching us about Jesus as the Light?
First, notice that there is a connection between the life and the light.
The life that Jesus gives is also the source for spiritual enlightenment, or the ability to see and comprehend what is actually true in regards to spiritual things.
Think about a cartoon—what shows up over a character’s head when they get an idea? A light bulb, right?
However, John isn’t pointing to some cold reality of simply an idea popping into your head.
Remember what he said about his purpose in writing the book? He wants you to believe these truths so you “may have life in his name,” right?
So, as Jesus brings light into the world, he is enlightening us not to a concept, but to life that comes from the One who is the source.
Speaking of the context of the people John was addressing, one commentator notes,
“Light was the symbol of enlightenment as it is today.... But our text ought to press us to an even deeper insight, namely, that behind light stands a “life” reality.... [John] may suggest that we ought to look for ultimate meaning not merely in our systems or in enlightenment but in the ultimate source of the universe—the Life-giver.”
We aren’t talking about enlightenment for enlightenment sake; we are talking about enlightenment that leads to life, which is ultimately about a relationship with the Life-giver himself!
That leads to the next observation about this light, doesn’t it?
Look at verse 5 again...
I love the way that John wrote this. What tense did he use about the light? He said the light “shines” in the darkness, right? Present tense.
When Jesus brought light to the world, he never stopped.
What else does he say? “yet the darkness did not overcome it.”
There is some debate here, because the word in the Greek could mean that the darkness didn’t understand it or that it wasn’t able to overcome it.
Perhaps there is a bit of both, but what we will see throughout John is that as Jesus brings the light to the world and reveals God more fully than ever before, there are those who fight against it.
Ultimately, that will be what puts Jesus on the cross and results in his death.
For a brief moment, it looks like maybe the darkness was able to extinguish the light.
However, John is writing about 50 years after those events, and he knows the rest of the story: the Source of Light broke out of the grave and overcame the darkness once and for all.
Remember how we said it seems like the world getting dark around us? Does it feel like the darkness is closing in? That temptation is getting stronger, that life is getting harder and more confusing and that evil is winning?
Take heart…the light of Christ is still shining in this world, and if the darkness couldn’t overcome him when he died, then we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that it won’t overcome him now that he has been raised from the dead and exalted.
He proved that he is the source of light and life by raising from the dead once and for all, so my friends, let our study through the book of John drive you deeper into understanding just how incredible Jesus is.
Now, let’s keep going into some absolutely incredible truths.
Where does the Bible usually talk about God living? Heaven, right? We know that he is present everywhere at all times, but it speaks of heaven as the place where he resides.
That’s kinda far away, isn’t it?
It’s great that Jesus was there at the beginning of time, and that he is the source of light and life, but did you notice something else?
Look at verse 9 again...
The true light came into the world.
What does that look like?
Jump down to verse 14...
So, the eternal Son of God came down to earth and took on flesh.
What does that even mean? Donald Fairbairn, in his book, Life in the Trinity says it this way:
“By ‘flesh,’ John does not simply mean that the Word took on a body or a visible form; he means that the Word became human, without ceasing to be God.… The Word, the Son, has come down from heaven, somehow become human as we are and lived a human life among us.” (Donald Fairbairn)
In a way that is impossible to fully wrap our heads around, the Source of Light and Life for all the world actually became a human being while still being fully God.
He didn’t just act like a person or wear a body like a coat; he actually became human and still stayed divine.
I have to confess that I have a hard time wrapping my head around it fully, but that is the incredible truth of what God has done for us.
Think back to when you were a little kid. Was there ever an adult who would kneel down and talk to you face to face? Did your Mom or Dad get down in the floor and play with you, or maybe your grandmother or grandfather would take a knee and look you in the eye to hear about what happened at school this week.
It made you feel so good to have someone get down on your level, didn’t it?
Here’s the thing, though…they eventually stood back up, didn’t they? They couldn’t actually become children again. They had to go back to chores and work, and if they stayed in the floor much longer, you might have had to call the Rescue Squad.
Now, think about the Incarnation of Jesus…when he stooped down, he didn’t just act like it for a minute. No, he actually became human (while still being divine), and from what the Bible teaches us, he never took off his humanity. It was perfected through the resurrection, but Jesus still has his humanity today.
So the Source of Life and Light became human to bring that light and life to us in a way that had never happened before.
That’s what John is getting at in verse 18...
This verse is confusing, because we know that Moses saw God’s back and that Jesus took on a physical appearance different times throughout the Old Testament.
How, then, could John say that we haven’t seen God?
We even get a hint of what is going on if we look at the story of Moses in Exodus 33-34. God tells Moses that he cannot see all of him because Moses would die, so God hides him and just lets him see his “back”, which implies God restrained his glory some.
However, since Jesus is God and has existed eternally with the Father, he can show us the astounding relationship within the Trinity and the character and nature of God in a way that Moses never could.
This is a theme that John will return to over and over again in his gospel: that Jesus, as God and man, reveals to us and even invites us into the love that exists between the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.
In fact, that’s part of what John is getting at in verses 16-17.
There was grace in the Law God gave to Moses, but we didn’t receive the fulness of it until Christ brought spiritual life and light into the world.
For the Jews and the Gentiles hearing this message for the first time, it would be unthinkable!
That’s why John also addresses the second part of his book’s purpose:
2) How should I respond?
2) How should I respond?
As we have already alluded to, John didn’t write his gospel just so you would have more facts about Jesus.
He didn’t want you to develop your own religious system based off the teachings of some ancient Jewish Rabbi.
What did he say his goal was?
But these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
That you may believe, and that you may have life.
Again, he introduces this in the very beginning of the book.
We have already talked about how he is going to show us the darkness fighting against Jesus, but he makes it more personal.
Start in verse 10-13...
Let’s pick up the metaphor again of “light”.
What happens when you have been in a dark room for a long time, and then you turn on the lights?
It’s uncomfortable, isn’t it? Sometimes, if you have a headache or just aren’t awake yet, you might turn the lights back off or close your eyes and hope it goes away, right?
Other times, when you realize you need the light to see what you are doing, you endure the discomfort, blink a bunch of times, and allow your eyes to adjust.
It isn’t comfortable at first, but it is what you need to do, right?
Throughout John’s gospel, we are going to see this scenario again and again: As Jesus shines his light into people’s lives, they will be faced with a simple, binary choice: will they reject him, or will they receive him.
Again, though, this isn’t just an academic exercise to learn about Ancient Near Eastern history.
This is the decision you and I are faced with as well.
As we go through these stories, and Jesus shines his light into our lives, we have a choice to make.
What are you going to do with him?
One option is to:
A) Reject him.
A) Reject him.
This is what we saw in verses 10-11.
When Jesus turned on the lights and showed the religious leaders just how dirty their lives were, they did everything they could to turn them off again.
Jesus tried to show them what God was really like, and they refused to receive it, ultimately being a part of the human agents who put Jesus to death on a cross.
That’s an option, I guess, but it isn’t a good one.
As we go through John together, the light that Jesus shines make make you uncomfortable, especially if you have never come into a relationship with him and received life through him.
There is a much better option, though.
Instead of closing your eyes and hoping the lights will go away, you can lean into the discomfort and...
B) Receive him.
B) Receive him.
Look at the incredible promise of verses 12-13...
Yes, following Jesus requires painful adjustments as you have to give up your old way of living and do what he says.
However, look at the trade-off!
When you believe in him, truly trust in him in that all-in kind of way that he is calling you to do, you actually become a child of God.
You get drawn into that same love that exists between the Father and the Son, that he has revealed, and that we get to enjoy.
In the book I mentioned last week, Delighting in the Trinity, author Michael Reeves says,
“Knowing God as our Father not only wonderfully gladdens our view of him; it gives the deepest comfort and joy. The honor of it is stupefying. To be the child of some rich king would be nice; but to be the beloved of the emperor of the universe is beyond words…Other gods might offer forgiveness, but this God welcomes and embraces us as his children, never to send us away.”
Jesus is the Son of God by his nature, but through the grace that he gives, we can become adopted children of God.
Yes, it is uncomfortable to look at the light and adjust, but when we receive Christ, we are drawn into that love relationship in a way that no one had ever come up with on their own.
We mentioned it earlier, but John says in verse 16 that those who have received Christ receive grace upon grace out of his fulness.
Isn’t that worth it?
Isn’t it worth having God forgive you, and more than that, draw you to himself as his child?
Yes, it is true that things seem awfully dark around us.
However, as we will see throughout our study of John, Jesus, the eternal Son of God, came to bring life and light into the world.
The darkness tried to stop him during his earthly ministry, but it couldn’t.
He has been raised from the dead, proving that he is the ultimate victor.
Don’t fear the darkness; instead, receive the light of the world.
 John MacArthur, John 1-11, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2006), 2.
 Gerald L. Borchert, John 1–11, vol. 25A, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1996), 109.
 Donald Fairbairn, Life in the Trinity (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2009), 133.
 Michael Reeves, Delighting in the Trinity (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2012), 76.