For most of my life, I wasn’t much of a reader… I had difficulty reading,
it just wasn’t fun to do… it was a lot of work, so I didn’t do it.
Now hear me, I wanted to be a reader… there were times I’d get a book I heard somebody talk about
and I’d say to myself, “I’m going to read this book.” So, I’d go right to the first chapter and start reading.
But it wouldn’t take long before I’d be lost and confused, wondering what the author’s main point was. Why did he even write this book?
By the time I’d make it to the second chapter, maybe chapter three on a good day, I’d give up on the book.
That was the extent of my reading for most of my life.
It’s only been in the last 12 years or so that I have truly become a reader. I read almost every day now.
Sometimes I’m working on two or three books at the same time.
I even have a list of books I’m planning on getting to!
As I thought about this switch from being a non-reader to a reader, it got me to wondering, why the change?
What made the difference?”
Well, it’s the craziest thing! It all started when I went to seminary.
One of the first books assigned to read was Mortimer Adler’s book, How to Read a Book!
It was written in 1941! It’s become a classic, and it’s helped many people like me who were disinterested in reading. Oh, it was so helpful for me!
My biggest takeaway from his book was the importance of slowing down and getting to know the book.
It’s a simple but profound thing to do.
He suggested taking the book and begin by looking at the title and subtitle…
and ask some questions: what’s it communicating? Why did it get your attention?
Then look at the back of the book, the inside cover, and the first couple of pages and read the accolades others have for the book. All this primes you for what the author wants to share with you.
It’s so insightful.
Once you’ve done all that, then you come to the most important step: Read the preface.
The preface is where the author introduces you to the purpose of the book!
It’s the “how” and “why” the book was written!
It’s where the author sets the hook and reels you into his topic!
And this is exactly what John does in the prologue of his gospel!
This Advent season, we are looking at the four gospels, and how each speaks to the history and mystery, of the incarnation.
Matthew began his gospel with the genealogy of Jesus. Mark’s gospel starts with the preaching of John the Baptist, and Luke’s gospel is written so a guy named Theophilus would have a true and accurate story of Jesus.
Today we’ll be looking at John’s gospel.
Specifically, we’ll look at the first 18 verses, typically referred to as the prologue (or the preface) of John’s gospel. It’s short and to the point… it contains many of the major themes he’ll reintroduce throughout his gospel. It’s rich with theological truths.
It sets the stage for what John wants to most communicate—he “set’s the hook” with his main point;
The God of the cosmos has made himself known to us through the incarnation of Jesus,
Gos’s one and only Son. Jesus is God in the flesh.
It’s mind-blowing stuff, yet it has taken place in real-time and space.
It’s that “steel truth” Terry spoke about last week.
John wants this truth embedded in the reader’s mind as they read his Good News.
Let’s read together through John’s prologue and ponder all that John shares in his opening thoughts about the mystery and the history of the incarnation of Jesus Christ.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (NIV)
History and mystery are woven together in these five verses.
Theologians have pondered them for millennia.
It’s okay to wonder how all this has taken place—It’s staggering stuff!
But here’s what John wants us to know for sure: To understand who Jesus is, you’ve got to go all the way back before the beginning of the universe itself—he is the Word of God and the Light that brings life.
He is no ordinary man. He’s eternal and divine, the agent of creation we find in the opening pages of Genesis who was actively involved in the creation.
He’s given life to everything that was created; without him, nothing would have ever been made.
And that includes you and me…
He knitted us together in our mother’s womb, saw our unformed bodies, and even knows the number of days we have. He’s determined the times and the exact places where we should live. He knows everything there is to know about you. (Acts 17:24)
Now, how all this happens is a mystery to me. However, it doesn’t mean it isn’t true.
But sometimes this truth can be hard to grasp, I can understand how doubt can begin to creep in. How darkness tries to overcome this reality.
That’s one reason John wants us to never lose sight of the fact that God, who created the cosmos and spoke everything into existence from nothing, is fully aware of your life. In him is the light that brings life!
Later John is going to unpack this truth by reminding us of the words Jesus spoke to Thomas when Tom was confused and flooded with all that was happening around him and began to be filled with doubt.
Jesus would comfort Thomas with these words that have now become so familiar to us, “I am the way, the truth, and the life!” Jesus was wanting Tom to understand that to know him is to know God and have life as God intended… Jesus is telling Tom, “Trust me and let me take you to the Father.”
You can read all this later in John chapter 14.
With His opening remarks, John is laying the groundwork for us to trust Jesus and walk in his light.
let’s keep reading…
6 There was a man sent from God whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. 8 He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. (NIV)
Here again, we see the history of God played out in a miraculous way!
John’s elderly parents, Elizabeth and Zechariah, were unable to have children.
And then, one day, the angel Gabriel appears to Zechariah and announces that he was going to have a son!
Zechariah was in disbelief! But despite his disbelief, the God of the cosmos was at work in their lives,
it was all true!
Their son, John, would be no ordinary person. He was set aside by God, filled with the Holy Spirit even before he was born. Like those prophets of old, John’s mission would be to point people back to God by pointing forward to Jesus.
John and Jesus were only 6 months apart in age. And just like John, Jesus came in the fullness of time, at just the right moment in history, two thousand years ago. (Gal. 4:4)
Jesus was born into a Jewish family. His mother was Mary, and his father, by way of adoption, was Joseph.
He had brothers and sisters. His cousin was John the Baptist, and his extended family included Zechariah and Elizabeth. (Allison, Gregg R.. Embodied (p. 117). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.)
His cousin, John, was this crazy Nazarite who lived in the wilderness and only ate honey and locust.
His clothes weren’t the current fashion of the day, but instead were a throwback to the prophets of old.
He was this “In your face kind of guy,” he was intense! People were puzzled and perplexed by him.
Did people know that Mary was found to be pregnant before she got married?
Was she the town’s center of gossip? Did people whisper as she walked by?
What about Joseph, did, people think he was a fool for marrying Mary?
Zechariah was an old priest. Did people just want to write him off?
Did they talk behind his back about his crazy family?
I don’t know. But what I do know is people are people, no different than we are today.
And yet the God of the cosmos made himself known to this family in a real and tangible way!
Each one would believe and trust in God’s word.
To me, it’s just incredible! The God of the cosmos, takes on a human body, and enters as a member of a family… probably much like yours and mine.
9 The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. (NIV)
This is the central theme of the Good News.
Jesus, the Son of God in flesh and blood, was now among us, and even though he created the world and everything in it, the world would not recognize him. Even people who would have known him best.
During his ministry, Jesus would return to his hometown. At first, folks were amazed at his wisdom and the miracles he performed. But when they realized he had grown up with them, everything changed.
“We know this guy—we know his parents. He’s the son of a carpenter… he didn’t go to school to be a preacher. Who is he to teach us? Forget about him… he’s no one special”
They were too close to the situation… they couldn’t bring themselves to believe his message. (Matt. 13:53-58)
Yet the Good News didn’t stop… Some would believe!
It started with his disciples, whom Jesus purposely invested his life into.
Then there was a Samaritan woman he met at a well.
She’d go on to tell everyone she met about what Jesus had done for her.
There was a government official who was desperate to save his dying son.
All had life-changing encounters with Jesus.
And encounters like these have continued over the last 2000 years as the Kingdom of God has spread worldwide, each encounter, with its own unique story.
Most of us here today have had an encounter with Jesus that’s changed your life forever.
You’ve been born again… you’re part of his Kingdom!
14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (NIV)
Here’s the B.L.U.F—”The bottom-line up front!”
Jesus—God incarnate, fully divine, fully human, two natures in the one person—has made it possible for us to know God more fully. Think about this: not even Moses, who God spoke with like a friend, got to fully see God.
Moses would only glimpse God’s back as God graciously hid him in the cleft of a rock, covered him with his hand, and passed by. (Exodus 33:18-22)
But now with Jesus’ coming, John wants us to know with certainty that we have seen God’s glory, a glory full of grace and truth revealed in Jesus!
Paul says the same thing when he writes, “Christ is the visible image of the invisible God. He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation.” Col. 1:15 NLT
This baby boy whose birth we celebrate this Christmas, born to a young teenage mother, from a nowhere backwater town, the adopted son of a carpenter, is not only the image of God; he is God’s one true incarnation!
He is the fulfillment of God’s plan of redemption that allows us to live as whole people in a broken and fractured world. (Allison)
Jesus is the Good News John the Baptist was shouting about!
15 (John testified concerning him. He cried out, saying, “This is the one I spoke about when I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’”) 16 Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.
And He’s the one many have shouted about—we can add Isaiah, Jeremiah, Malachi, and all the other prophets of old who pointed to the coming messiah—all were looking forward to his arrival. And now he has come!
He’s the source of all our blessings—in him we receive grace upon grace!
Do you need a little grace in your life? I don’t know about you, but I do.
When we come to Jesus, he dishes out grace in huge, heaping servings!
John’s point is, Jesus is full of grace, and those who know Him get showered with grace.
18 No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known. (NIV)
With these words John closes his prologue— He’s set the hook! He’s inviting you to keep reading the story and discover what Jesus wants to make known to you. It’s an invitation to know and be known by the Father and the Son who together are the one God. (Bible Project)
In his new book, The Thrill of Orthodoxy, Trevin Wax writes about the beautiful complexity of truth.
It fits well with our Advent theme: the Incarnation’s Mystery and History.
In the book he says that the gospel is simple enough for a child to grasp yet so complex that the greatest scholars can only scratch the surface of its glory. He uses the children’s hymn “Jesus Loves Me ” to illustrate his point.
Jesus loves me. Jesus, the eternal Son of God, the One who is both God and man, the Messiah of Israel, whom we confess as Savior and Lord.
Loves. Oh, how he loves!
Me. Who am I? A human being, made in God’s image, marked by sin, in need of salvation. A wretch and a masterpiece bundled into one.
This I know. How do we know? What does it mean to know?
The Bible tells me so. These Scriptures—our authority, divinely inspired and delivered to us—tell us how we can know!
Can you see the glorious complexity behind the beautiful simplicity of the gospel found in this hymn?
Trevin says, “We could write thousands of pages expounding every word of this children’s hymn.”
(Wax, Trevin. The Thrill of Orthodoxy (pp. 77-78). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.)
1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning…14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (NIV)
This is the mystery and history of Jesus, the Son of God seamlessly tied together. The incarnation is the single most important event in history. And it happened in the most ordinary way, some 2,000 years ago in real time and space.
It’s simple enough for a child to grasp yet so complex that the greatest scholars can only scratch the surface of its glory.
The Gospel—the Good News—is that God became like us, to do for us what we could not do for ourselves.
And all he asks is that we believe in Him… that we place our love and trust in Him…transfer our trust from self to Him.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16 NIV
Will you do that?
- If you’ve already placed your trust in Jesus—As we pray and sing here in just a moment, be present in awe and wonder this Advent season as you contemplate who Jesus is, and his arrival at just the right time in history. Think about how you came to know him. Think about how different your life would be without Him in it. Let it fill you with Joy and peace this Advent season.
- If you haven’t placed your trust in Jesus—I challenge you to wrestle with the truth of who Jesus is. John’s testimony is true… God has made himself known in his one and only son, Jesus. Trust in the fullness of His grace and truth. Let Jesus transform your life into a child of God.
Pray: Jesus, thank you that you’ve given us evidence to place our trust in you. Deepen our faith as we walk with you and show us your faithfulness every day. Amen.