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John 1:1-28 - Jesus the Word Made Flesh

This week our study sheet is long. We will focus on some of the verses on Advent 3 and some on Christmas 2.

John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. 6There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. 9The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. 10He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 12But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. 14And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. 15(John testified to him and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’”) 16From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known. 19This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, “I am not the Messiah.” 21And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” He answered, “No.” 22Then they said to him, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” 23He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’” as the prophet Isaiah said. 24Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. 25They asked him, “Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?”26John answered them, “I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, 27the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.” 28This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing.

Background: The opening 18 verses of John’s Gospel were probably an ancient Christian hymn. Scholars differ as to whether it was written independently and appropriated by John to open his work, or whether it was written by John himself and spread from him to the wider community. I favor the later interpretation, but in either case, it is clear that this deeply symbolic and richly theological text was held to, memorized and sung by young believers nearly 2000 years ago.  In many ways these words are more difficult to assimilate and embrace than the stories of stables and stars found in Luke and Matthew. Still, they carry the heart of the message of the Gospel. It is because of the truth that John reveals to us that the manger means anything at all.

Key Concept: WORD (Logos): Logos in general Greek usage meant ‘a word embodying an idea, a thought expressed, or an action filled communication.’ In Greek philosophy, particularly with the Stoics, the word Logos was used to describe the rational principle which gave order to the cosmos and in some circles was equated with the divine.  Human reason was derived from Logos. In Philo, Logos, understood as Wisdom, was the means through which God created and through which revelation came.

            Logos was also used to translate the Hebrew word Dabar.  In Hebrew, Word was especially important.  It was God’s creative Word that brought the cosmos into being and brought life from chaos.  It was God’s legal Word (Law) that described God’s total will and gave shape to human community.  It was God’s prophetic Word that directly addressed human beings and demanded a response.  It was God’s covenant Word that sealed the promises of God and formed a people for worship and service. Wisdom, seen as a part of God, was understood as Word personified.

            In John, Jesus is God’s divine communication (Word) who continues God’s creative, prophetic, redemptive work and who embodies wisdom.

Verses 19-28 Give us the first narrative section in John. After making sure the reader knows that all and everything that comes next is about Jesus, John backs up to put that in context by giving us a picture of where the people were when Jesus started his ministry and how his cousin John, and immensely popular prophet laid the groundwork for him. The key here is to understand that Jesus is not a prophet like people are used to. He is someone altogether different.

Word Study

Vs. 1 – In the beginning – the same three words that begin the book of Genesis. It was God’s speech that brought forth creation, ‘and God said, and it was so.’  In this and the following 3 verses, John wants us to know that Jesus was that ‘speech’ and he still is.  God did not just invent Jesus when humanity was in need of a savior. Jesus always was a part of the creating and redeeming nature of God.

Vs. 4 – life – the word is used here in a poetic and symbolic way.  It is not just physical life that the triune God creates, and Jesus brings to fullness. It is capital L life, life with gusto, joy meaningfulness and fullness.

Light – light is a symbol for John of the opposite of chaos and futility.  Light comes as insight or enlightenment, the ability to see the truth and recognize what is real. Without this light human beings are unable to focus and get their bearings. They are in a real sense unable to truly live.

Vs. 5 – overcome it – The word literally means to seize, lay hold of, catch, overcome or win in a race or battle.  What John is saying is that no matter how fierce the battle or how the circumstances seem, because of Jesus, chaos and futility will never have the last word.

Vs. 6-8, 15 – the prophet Malachi, writing around 400 BC, says that a messenger or angel will come to prepare the way for a major intervention by God.  In all four Gospels that messenger is understood to be John the Baptist. His role is to proclaim God’s new initiative. These verses are included because there was a great tendency then (as now) to substitute lesser realities that are more controllable and comfortable for God.

Vs. 9-13 – returning to light as a metaphor for Jesus, John points to Jesus as authentic Word and reminds his readers that even those closest to him have not always recognized him.  As comfort to the faithful, however, he reminds them that those who believe are given power to become children of God. 

Children of God – a term used for those who mirror God in the world and are heirs of God’s kingdom.

Vs. 14 – And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.   Many consider this to be the Gospel in miniature.

Flesh – a term for humanity in general.

Lived among us – literally means pitched a tent. This image reminds the reader of God’s invitation to build a tent for God to dwell in so that God would always be close to them.  That tent was the tabernacle of the Old Testament. Jesus is the tabernacle of the New Testament. He is God’s presence with the people.

Grace – blessing, kindness favor. It is love that expresses itself in mercy.

Truth – this word refers to both objective truth and honesty and to the certainty that comes form indisputable demonstrable fact.

Vs. 16-18 – These last verses remind us that God has drawn near to humankind in two dramatic ways. 1. God has drawn near in the revelation of divine with in the Law given to Moses. 2. God has drawn near in the love and certainty of relationship with God that comes in Jesus Christ. It is Jesus who speaks for God for us and who allows us to see who God is and what God values.

Vs. 19 – testimony - Remember first of all, that the Evangelists primary purpose throughout his gospel is to proclaim who Jesus is. In the first 18 verses he has told us what he has determined. Now he intends to show us how God revealed that truth. We see that God reveals truth through ‘testimony or witness. The community of faith knows what it believes because of what others have said of their own belief and experience. So we begin with the witness of John the Baptist, Jesus’ elder cousin.

Vs. 20 – confessed – This word is used twice in this verse for emphasis. It is the word we use for ‘confession of faith’ not ‘confession of sin.’ It means to point or direct attention to. John the Baptist understands himself as one who points to Messiah. During the time that John was prophesying in the wilderness there were many who were looking intently for Messiah. Many thought John was the one, although he never claimed that. His role was to identify Jesus. Even decades later by the time this Gospel is written there is still confusion about the role and identity of John the Baptist. Hence the need for this clarification.

Vs. 21 – The Hebrew scriptures held that Elijah, the prophet whose story is told in 1 & 2 Kings, would return prior to the advent of the Messiah. John the Baptist dressed like Elijah, came out of the wilderness like Elijah. It was only natural that some might think he was Elijah returned. There was also a tradition that a prophet similar to Moses would appear. It is that prophet to which the Levites refer in the second question.

Vs. 22 – There must have been some report of a disturbance that they are investigating. The authorities need some kind of explanation for the hubbub. One of the needles the Jewish authorities always had to thread was allowing people their natural autonomy and quieting any disturbances that might irritate the Roman overlords.

Vs. 23 – John the Baptist quotes from Isaiah 40:3. This chapter of Isaiah states the Jewish hope that God will eventually create a straight way through the desert for those captive in Babylon to return to their homeland. John takes the concept further, declaring that God will be the one to use the road to come to the people. He sees himself as the messenger that prepares the road for God to travel.

Vs. 24-25 – The Pharisees –were a group of very dedicated keepers of the Law. Probably only a minority of them come into conflict with Jesus later on. Here they have been sent to find out what is going on.

Vs. 26-27baptize -By the time of John the Baptist, ritual washings to cleanse moral impurity were becoming more common. Jews baptized Gentile converts although circumcision was still required. John the Baptist emphasized changing of heart and mind with his rituals. What John is saying here is that he can do the cleansing rituals but there is One who can do far more than that. He does not yet know who that is, but he does believe he will be so mighty that he, John, will be unfit to be his slave.

Vs 28 – Bethany – a town just a few miles from Jerusalem. It becomes a very important town in Jesus’ ministry. It is the home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus.

Questions for Personal Reflection

1.  What are the most important and joyful aspects of your life? Make a list of these and add prayers of thanks to God for these things in your daily prayers.

2. What aspects of your life lack vitality and meaning? Ask God to come into those parts of your life and enlighten you about the situations and how they might be resolved.

3. What are the areas of darkness in your life? In our community? Nation? Church? How does who Jesus is shed light on those situations? Add these situations to your prayers. Close your prayers with the affirmation that darkness will never win.

4. Who are the people in your life who have passed on to you, or particularly impacted you, in your faith? Who were your witnesses?

5. In what ways do you point to Jesus for all to see in your everyday life?