The dawning of a new year —John 1:1-18
The dawning of the New Year is a reminder that time is passing very, very quickly. When you’re six years old, a year is one-sixth of your life and time passes so slowly. However, when you’re 60, a year is one-sixtieth of your life. It’s practically nothing. Children think next Christmas is a long time away. Those of us who are older, know better. I guess our perception of time, depends on where we stand in the continuum of aging
As we begin this New Year, I’d like to focus on some of the most beautiful, dramatic and powerful words in all the Bible. They’re found in John.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it . . . The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.
He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.
“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth . . .”
“In the beginning was the Word . . .”
John makes interesting use of language here. Remember that the first words of the Bible are, “In the beginning . . .” John begins his Gospel with the same words, “In the beginning . . .”
Notice also that in Genesis 1, God speaks, and the world is created, “Let there be light and behold there was light . . .” In the same way John doesn’t say God spoke the world into existence, but he does write, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men . . .” The Word is powerful, John tells us. Everything that exists came about because of the Word.
In our everyday world words are powerful, aren’t they? Wilfred Peterson once put it this way: “Soft words sung in a lullaby will put a baby to sleep. Excited words will stir a mob to violence. Eloquent words will send armies marching into the face of death. Encouraging words will fan to flame the genius of a Rembrandt or a Lincoln. Powerful words will mold the public mind as the sculptor molds his clay. Words, spoken or written, are a dynamic force . . . Words are the swords we use in our battle for success and happiness. How others react toward us depends, in a large measure, upon the words we speak to them. Life is a great whispering gallery that sends back echoes of the words we send out! Our words are immortal, too. They go marching through the years in the lives of all those with whom we come in contact.”
Warren Wiersbe put it like this: “A judge says a few words, and a man’s life is saved or condemned. A doctor speaks a few words, and a patient either rejoices ecstatically or gives up in despair. Whether the communication is oral or written, there is great power in words.
The words we use each day are powerful. Think of the power of the words, “I love you,” or “I hate you.” They can be life changing. If our simple words can carry so much power, think of the Word of God. Everything that exists came into being through God’s Word.
Jesus is the Word of God. We often use the phrase “the word of God” to denote the Bible. That’s quite natural. After all, we believe the Bible is inspired by God. But technically, Jesus is the true word of God.
This distinction can be immensely helpful as we attempt to interpret scripture. If we come to a passage of scripture that disturbs us, may even offend us, ask whether this passage is in keeping with the character of Christ. If it is, then it’s to be followed wholeheartedly. If it’s not, then more study is needed to see what God is trying to say to us through that verse of scripture.
Jesus is the Word of God, not an afterthought. Neither was he merely human. He was in the mind of God at the beginning of time. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God . . .”
Years ago, the Bible scholar William Barclay, in his book Good Tidings of Great Joy, gave a wonderful exposition of this text.
He tells about a Greek philosopher named Heraclitus who lived about 560 B. C. Heraclitus believed that everything is in a state of flux everything is changing from day to day and from moment to moment.
It is impossible to step twice into the same river. You step into a river; you step out; you step in again; but you do not step into the same river, for the water has flowed on and it is a different river.
To Heraclitus everything is like that; everything is in a constantly changing state of flux. However, it that’s true, why is life not complete chaos? How can there be any sense of purpose in a world where there is constant flux and change? Heraclitus concluded all this change and flux is not haphazard; it is controlled and ordered; and that which controls the pattern for the world is the Logos, or Word, the reason of God.
To Heraclitus, the Logos, or Word, is the principle of order by which the universe exists. He also held that not only is there a pattern in the physical world; there is a pattern in the world of events.
For example, if Heraclitus were here today, he might say that the turmoil we are going through is not a random event. He might say that the communists had offended God. Nothing in this world is random according to Heraclitus. Everything is ordered by the Word. He held that nothing moves with aimless feet; in all life and in all the events of life there is a purpose, a plan, a design. And what is it that controls events? Once again, it’s the Logos or Word.
Heraclitus went even further. What is it in us individually that helps us choose right over wrong? What makes us able to think and to reason? What enables us to recognize truth when we see it? The Logos of God dwelling within us. Heraclitus believed that in the world of nature and events “all things happen according to the Logos,” and that in the individual person “the Logos is the judge of truth. The Logos is nothing less than the mind of God controlling the world and everyone in it.”
When Paul was in Athens, he saw a statue to an unknown god. He used this statue as an opportunity to introduce the citizens of Athens to the one true God, the God revealed in Jesus Christ. “Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are deeply religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you . . .” (Acts 17:22-23) Paul then gave them a name for their unknown god. He introduced them to Jesus.
In the same way, the writer of John was evidently familiar with the philosophy of Heraclitus. And thus, he says to his Greek readers, as well as to us, “Look, Jesus is that Logos that you have believed in all along.” Jesus existed before the world was created. Through him God spoke the world into existence. Through him, God still speaks to hearts today.
Christ came into the world that God’s Word might be accessible to all.
Jesus is the translation of God’s love into human flesh. John writes in verse 14: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth . . . .” Then he adds in verse 16-18: “From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” And then these magnificent words: “No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.”
That is awkward wording. Some manuscripts say, “the only (or only begotten) Son has made him known.” The Word was made flesh that we might see God, that we might experience God, that we might hear and feel God. Christ translated God’s love into human flesh. When you and I have seen Christ, the Word of God, we have seen God. What better way to start the New Year?
Rev. Charles Eldredge is pastor of Maitland Church of the Brethren, Lewistown, PA where he is currently serving in his 28th year. He graduated from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in S. Hamilton, MA.