This is my preach from the 6.30pm at TRINITY on 24th July 2016. It is part of a series on The Apostles Creed, each talk based on a passage of scripture as well as a line from the creed.
As usual this is my notes/script so may not be exactly as I said it!
Preach // John 1: 1-18
“I believe in Jesus Christ his only Son…”
So… do we?
I don’t think any of you here know my story or testimony, and I’m not going to share it all this evening, (but more than happy to chat about it if anyone wants to!)
However I spent my life from a baby to the age of about 18 going to church regularly, in several fairly traditional parish churches. I must have said that line ‘I believe in Jesus Christ his only Son’ and others from the Creeds, hundreds if not thousands of times. And yet for over 30 years I didn’t really know what it meant. I didn’t really know what I was saying, I just said it because that’s what we did in church.
After that I was in and out of church for years until my 30s. In fact the reason I stopped going to church eventually was because I couldn’t stand the fact that I didn’t understand what it was all about.
>In my mind it was all turmoil, did I believe in God? Or not? Who was Jesus? Did he actually live? Was he really God’s Son?
And finally I decided I didn’t want my kids to go through the same experience and uncertainty and so we stopped going.
Just like that.
For a few years I was in some kind of spiritual blender where I looked at various different faiths, explored meditation and mindfulness and tried to find some answers.
Then our lives changed when we had some work done on our house and a builder who was a committed Christian started to tell us about Jesus. Not just ‘Jesus Christ the Son of God’ whose name or title I had repeated all those years, but a Jesus who he knew, who was with him always, who was his friend, who he couldn’t live without.
This was a Jesus I had never heard of before, but I wanted to know more…
And there is of course a lot more to that story, the fact that I’m here and ordained is part of it! But the reason I wanted to share that is that for me, now, when I say those words: ‘I believe in Jesus Christ the Son of God’ I mean it. I mean it with all my heart and I mean it because I do know him, and I couldn’t say anything other than I believe in him. It’s not just repeating a name and a title because I don’t just believe – he is my reason for living
: Now we are focusing on The Apostles Creed, which is based on doctrine, which in itself is based on scripture.
And so to look at this line today, “I believe in Jesus Christ his only Son…” we are focusing on John 1:1-18 which is a fantastic passage because it declares such amazing truths about who Jesus is.
But I believe it also actually says as much about us as believers as it does about Jesus.
So we’re going to look at who he is but also who we are in him.
Now some of you will have similar stories to mine, some might not. Some will perhaps recognise where I was a few years ago, others may always have known Jesus, but wherever you are at, I hope that in what I share this evening, that all of us might know Jesus a little by more by the time we all leave this place, but also that we might seek to find who we are, in Christ also, to seek how he sees us. Is that ok?
So what does John tell us?
This passage, is really John laying down what he believes, to frame the rest of the gospel. And the opening lines of the chapter here – vs.1-18 are like a prologue to the whole thing. It’s a bit like John’s creed, his declaration of who he believes Jesus to be: He says:
Jesus was there in the beginning
he had a part in creation – all things were created through him,
he gives light to all men,
he gives right to become children of God,
he brings grace,
John even takes us back to Moses and the law, just confirming again Jesus as the fulfilment of the law.
Those are some pretty big claims actually, so let’s take a closer look at some of them and what they might mean for us.
- logos – foundation just as today
And he really starts by laying down a foundation stone:
‘In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God and the word was God’.
This is a direct description of Jesus. And I love this about John’s gospel that he is far more poetic, mysterious even, more spiritual than the others, and this language here is really beautiful and creates an amazing picture of who Jesus is throughout this passage.
But even so, why does he use ‘word’ (or ‘logos’ in Greek) ? why doesn’t he just say ‘Jesus’? wouldn’t that be simpler?
Well if we imagine the time he was writing and those who would have read or heard these words, we know that he is appealing largely to two groups of people – the Greeks and the Jews.
So for the Greeks – As you might know the Greeks were very into thinking and reason, philosophical thought. So ‘logos’ was a word for reason – a way of referring to thought. Both in terms of inward thought – so our own ideas and things whizzing around our brain, but also an expression of thought in speech. Speaking thoughts out loud.
So, in referring to Jesus as the word, the ‘logos’ he was appealing to the idea of reason, not just declaring who Jesus is, but putting the idea of him into a framework the Greeks would understand. He’s saying there is a reason for life – and Jesus is it.
But John also appeals to the Jewish readers too. They would have understood that idea of the word ‘logos’ in a different way – as a revelation from God – a word spoken from God. For example in the Old Testament, prophets were God’s mouthpiece, he spoke his words directly to the prophets and they then shared that with the people.
In some scripture God’s word can almost be seen to have a life of its own in this sense –
Psalm 107:20 ‘God sent forth his word and healed them’
or Isaiah 55: 11 ‘… so is my word that goes out from my mouth; it will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it’.
So actually John is, as well as being very arty and poetic, is actually being very clever in appealing to different readers using the same word, to help them to understand who Jesus is, in terms they might know.
So for us, as the modern reader, today, in our lives, are these helpful terms? Do they help us to get a better handle on who Jesus is? Can we imagine Jesus as our reason for living? Or can we picture him as someone sent out from God, to do his work?
If you imagine in those lines above that I read – imagine ‘word’ replaced with Jesus it can really help us to understand what is being said here:
God sent forth Jesus and healed them’
‘… Jesus will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent him’.
I think they are quite helpful actually as a foundation, but there is so much more to Jesus than that isn’t there?
Jesus as God – there in the beginning
And John doesn’t stop there, he goes even further than this, he wants to really cement that the word, Jesus, is not just a revelation or expression of God but that he is in fact God himself too. So he highlights:
‘he was there in the beginning, through him all things were made, without him nothing was made that has been made’.
Which is also echoed in v10 – ‘through him the world was made’…)
Wait, so if it weren’t for Jesus, if it weren’t for ‘the word’ there would be no world? That’s enough for people to stand up and listen isn’t it?! And that’s the truth of how fundamental Jesus is to us too, that without him there would be nothing. Without him in our lives, is it all worth nothing?
Again John wants to reach a range of readers so he uses language to reach them. Jewish readers would know their own scripture, for example the Torah, the first 5 books of our Old Testament, was for teaching and all about the law and instruction.
And how does it all start? What are the very first words of the bible in Genesis
‘In the beginning…’ the very same words John starts his Gospel with. He is aligning himself, his beliefs and Jesus, with the Jewish faith, placing Jesus as the Messiah, there at the very beginning. Of everything. Not just with God, but he was God.
But also again he’s appealing to the Greek reader who placed such emphasis on thought and reason with the very idea of ‘the beginning’ – what was the beginning? What was there, before there was anything?
Jesus was there ‘ in the beginning’. Just as later we read in Hebrews 13:
‘Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.’
Jesus that was there in the beginning, was the same Jesus who came to earth as a baby, the same Jesus who died on the cross, the same Jesus who offers us eternal life now, if we choose it.
So for us, does this bring meaning to us? Personally I believe both show Jesus as a reason for life, but in different ways. So just as then, now we might understand Jesus as the Son of God, the reason for life, the reason we are here – bringing meaning to the universe and the world around us.
But also he continues to bring us the word of God, he is the one who enables us to know God the Father.
So John goes on with his fundamental truths… and so far we have really looked at who Jesus is, but now, we get a sense of who he is for us or within us. For example in:
– In v.9 He is the ‘true light that gives light to every man…’
In v 12: ‘he gave the right to become children of God’ – this is for us today
In v14: the word dwelled amongst us
In v.16. through grace we receive blessing
These are all amazing statements about who Jesus is for us, but I want to focus now on Jesus as the Son of God as we declare in that line:
“I believe in Jesus Christ his only Son…”
So, in verse 12-13 John says:
‘he gave the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, not of human decision, or a husband’s will, but born of God.
Jesus gives us, all of us, the right to become a child of God. We can call God our Father, we can call him our Dad. Strange though that might seem, Jesus’ came to restore each of us to a relationship with God, the kind of relationship that a truly loving Father has with his children. That is what is on offer for each of us!
And I wonder, can any of say that that is how we see God? That we truly believe that we have the kind of relationship with him where we see him as a truly loving Father?
It’s actually really hard to get our head around, especially if you may not have had a loving Father in life.
But it’s actually much more than that even – In the Jewish and Greek culture, generational lines and the importance of Father-Son relationships were hugely important. For example:
In Hebrew culture, a son or child was deemed to be so, not just by birth but by who the father chose or named as his son, so sometimes men would take others into their family and deemed them to be sons (sadly rarely happened with women!). Doing so not only meant that others then saw the new son’s status as the same as the Father but that they were representatives of the Father, they had his rights, could make decisions in his name. So a slave could (and did in some cases) be taken into a family and given the same rights as the head of the household.
In a way that’s what Jesus does for us – offers us adoption into his family. And how could he offer this? Because he was the son himself – he could share his inheritance with us…
For those of the day, unlike other religions of faith cultures, Jesus offered ‘membership’ if you like, to anyone. This was a world where status mattered hugely, from governors, army generals and Rabbis who carried importance, weight and power, to slaves who often had no rights of their own and no prospect of getting any.
Jesus and what would become Christianity, was something so different to anything seen before. It was a faith for everyone, irrespective of intelligence, age, gender, race or religious background.
They could all receive from Jesus.
We can all receive from Jesus.
And today there are still vast chasms between the rich and poor, between those with status and those without, sometimes just as arbitrary but nothing can keep us from Jesus – well nothing except ourselves.
Actually sometimes we put those barriers there ourselves, we question ourselves, our identity – many of us suffer with a real lack of self worth, but God’s word tells us that as Christians, as believers in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, we are nothing less than the personally valued, dearly loved children of God, irrespective of how others may see us or even of how we see ourselves.
Romans 8:14-21 says this:
14 For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. 15 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.
>>We get to be children of God, we get to share in his glory. You are special, every one of you. EVERY one of you. Can we believe that? <<
But it’s not just a theory either, not just something we choose to believe –
Jesus came here…
Verse 14 – I’m going to read it from the Message Version – have come across that? (explain)
The Word became flesh and blood,
and moved into the neighborhood.
We saw the glory with our own eyes,
the one-of-a-kind glory,
like Father, like Son,
Generous inside and out,
true from start to finish
I love that – he moved into the neighbourhood. What a great way of describing it – because we can hear that Jesus was: the incarnation, he was born of Mary – but what did it mean?
So just imagine, Jesus moved into your neighbourhood – imagine Jesus was here in Lewes. He might have grown up on your street, he might have been at events you were at – a wedding maybe or a funeral, or you might have heard him speak at the Speakers festival this weekend!
Have you ever seen someone famous in real life? A celebrity? I’m sure there must be a few around Lewes! It’s like you see them on TV or maybe or read about them, you’ve seen plenty of photos of them, and then you bump into them in the street, or see them at an event. Undoubtedly they look a little bit different, but more than that, you will see them in the flesh, 3D if you like, you get to see them in all their glory – the fullness of who they are.
It’s the same with Jesus. This is John’s story – he saw Jesus, he knew Jesus, this is his testimony that he saw him.
Jesus (God) was actually here on earth, he dwelled among people like you and I, he revealed himself, as God, the Son of God, he was a revelation of God here amongst us.
Jesus is God but he also knows what it is to be human, to feel emotion, to feel pain – I know some can’t get around the theology of what Jesus could feel, but do you think as a child he never fell over, scraped his knee or stubbed his toe? Did he never get a cold? If he was fully human as well as fully God then he experienced these things just as we do. And we know, he certainly experienced suffering.
And he is still with us. Yes we don’t get to bump into him down at Tesco, but he’s here, in our hearts, longing for us to know him more.
And in fact the last few verses 16-18 just reiterate that too, and again I’m going to read from the Message:
We all live off his generous bounty,
gift after gift after gift.
We got the basics from Moses,
and then this exuberant giving and receiving,
This endless knowing and understanding—
all this came through Jesus, the Messiah.
No one has ever seen God,
not so much as a glimpse.
This one-of-a-kind God-Expression,
who exists at the very heart of the Father,
has made him plain as day.
Jesus was the Messiah, the Christ, the fulfillment of the Jewish faith.
And that word Messiah, by the way, is translated in the Greek as Kristos – Christ, It literally means ‘anointed one’ and it was often used as a title, for someone who was thought to be anointed – maybe a Priest or Prophet, even a King. So whist we know the word as solely referring to Jesus, it was something prior to his time on earth.
John is reiterating here again the history, going back to Moses – reminding the Jews of the heritage of their faith, Moses a fundamental figure for the Jews, here being superseded it seems by Jesus – he’s taking them forward, to the next level, Moses didn’t see God but we get to – we get to see him in Jesus. As do we today.
We get to receive this generous bounty – through grace – none of us deserve it but we get it anyway. We get to know Jesus. Jesus Christ the Son of God. The one who was there at the very beginning, will be at the very end and is here right now.
So… When we say that line
“I believe in Jesus Christ his only Son…”
Let’s ask ourselves – do we?
Because when we say this line (and the Creed as a whole) we are not just declaring what we believe in, but we are declaring who we are.
If Jesus lives within us, then we are also declaring our own identity.
So do we believe that Jesus is God, that he was there at the very beginning?
Do we believe that he is our very foundation? Our reason for living?
Do we we truly accept that we are Children of God? that we are special?
Can we say that we have received God’s grace? Undeserved and unearned, but there for each of us?
Those are the questions I want to leave you with, I’d love you to ponder on them this week, to think about your reason for living and who you are in Jesus.
Prayer and Ministry….