“God Revealed to Mankind”
January 3, 2010
Jesus reveals God to man because He is God and Man.
I. The Word’ Relation to the Father (John 1:1-5)
II. The Word’ Reception by the World (John 1:6-13)
III. The Word’ Revelation of the Father (John 1:14-18)
This past Wednesday, my wife and I celebrated our 3rd anniversary, and it’s sort of hard to believe that it’s already been three years, it seems like those years have passed by very quickly. But before we were married, time seemed to move at a snails pace; we dated for over a year before we got engaged, then we were engaged for another whole year, and it felt like the longest year of my life. Part of the reason for that was because we were far apart for months at a time. She was in Chicago at Moody Bible Institute, and I was in Dallas at Dallas Theological Seminary. So during that time, most of our communication was through emails and over the phone. We had free cell phone minutes after 9 pm, so every night, at 9 I would call her up and we would talk for hours. And it was a blessing to be able to talk on the phone, it was a blessing to have email, but when we had the opportunity to come home for Christmas, or for Summer break, our relationship grew tremendously because we could spend time with each other in person. As good as email and phone are they can’t substitute for real, one-on-one personal time.
It’s the same way with God. We can learn some things about Him by looking at the world that He has made, and we can learn quite a lot about Him through His written word, but as good as those things are, they do not compare with how we will know Him when we finally see Him face to face. God has initiated this face to face relationship with us by sending us His Son Jesus Christ. It is through Christ that we know God. Of course for now, we do not actually see Him face to face, we are still waiting for the full consummation of our union with God, but because of the incarnation, that we just celebrated at Christmas time, we now know that when He comes for His bride, the Church, it will be through Christ that we have this face to face relationship with God.
So the question for us this morning is how is that possible? Why is Jesus Christ qualified to reveal God to us? We are going to discover that Jesus reveals God to man, because He is God and man. This is the starting point for our understanding of the Trinity. This week, and for the next two weeks we are going to study the Trinity as it is revealed in the gospel of John. Now I want to point out, that the word “Trinity” is not a Biblical word. It’s a word that people came up with to explain the picture of God that unfolds when we look at everything the Bible has to say about God. The Bible affirms that there is only one God, and the Bible affirms that God the Father is God, that Jesus is God, and that the Holy Spirit is God. It also tells us that the Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Father, and the Holy Spirit is not the Father or the Son, etc. There are three distinct Persons, but only One God. If you’re confused, then that probably means I explained it correctly, because this is something infinite, this is something bigger than our finite mental abilities. This doctrine deals with the nature of God Himself. If we ask enough of the right questions about God we will eventually come to a point where our understanding reaches its limits. But just because we cannot know everything there is to know about God, that does not mean we cannot know anything about Him. In fact, I am confident that you will find that if we stick to what the Scripture says, and resist the temptation to wander into speculation, there will be a lot that we can understand. And I am confident we will discover that the traditional, orthodox understanding of the Trinity is not something humanly invented, it comes directly from the pages of Scripture. The place to start is with Christ. We would not have a doctrine of the Trinity if Jesus had not come in the flesh. Our understanding of the Trinity has come about as a direct result of God initiating a face to face relationship with us, through Jesus Christ.
So today we will begin, at the beginning with John chapter 1, verses 1-18. As we study this passage we will discover that Jesus reveals God to man, because He is God and man. There are three major sections in verses 1-18 that we are going to look at. In the first section, we will learn about the relationship of the Word to the Father. In the second section, we will look at the way the Word was received by the world, and in the third section, we will look at how the Word reveals the Father to us. Let’s begin by reading John 1:1-5:
“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, and the darkness has not understood it.”
I. The Word’s Relation to the Father 1:1-5
From the very beginning of his gospel John links the truth about Jesus Christ, with the God of the Old Testament. “In the beginning was the Word,” reminds us of Genesis chapter 1 where it says, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” This simple opening phrase begins to hint at the deity of Jesus Christ simply by the way it is structured. First of all, John uses the exact same word order that we find in Genesis, he says, “In the beginning...” and then right where Genesis 1 puts “God” John puts “the Word”. Then, instead of moving on to describe the things that were created, John looks in the other direction, and focuses our attention on this Word who does the creating.
If you read Genesis 1 you will notice that every time God creates something it says, “And God said,” ‘Let there be light,’ or plants or animals or whatever. God spoke things into existence, creating things by His Word. By calling Jesus “the Word,” John reminds his readers of the Genesis account that they were familiar with, but he introduces a new twist. This Word is more than mere sounds uttered by God, this Word is Someone. John calls Jesus the Word because He embodies God’s self-expression. He is the purest form of God’s revelation of His character. God has revealed Himself to mankind through the things He has made, He has revealed Himself to mankind through the written word, but neither of these vehicles of communication are adequate to fully demonstrate who God is. John calls Jesus the Word, because he is introducing the subject of God’s self-disclosure and he wants us to know that the ultimate form of this self-disclosure is through the person of Jesus Christ.
The first thing that he says about the Word is that He was in the beginning. Another way to communicate this idea would be to say that when the universe came into existence, the Word was already there. Now some people have said, “No, Jesus was a created being, but he was just created before everything else was created, he wasn’t uncreated like God.” This is what the heretic Arius argued for in the 3rd century, and this is what Mormons still say today. So how do we know they are wrong? Well, if we just look at verse 3, it says, “Through Him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.” So if all things were made through Him, and no created thing was made apart from Him, then He cannot be a created thing. When the universe came into existence, “in the beginning,” the Word was already there.
Okay, so why does this matter? It matters to us because it puts the Word on the same level with God the Father. If He were not eternal, if ‘there was a time when he was not,’ as Arius used to say, then the Word is not qualified to reveal God in the special way that Jesus claimed to do. He said to Philip, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” (John 14:9) No one else can say that but Him. If we are to believe Him when He makes this incredible claim, we must be able to affirm that He is eternal as the Father is eternal.
John continues by saying, “the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” The doctrine of the Trinity hangs on those two little words, “with,” and, “and.” First of all, the little preposition “with.” It’s the Greek word pros. Pros can mean “with,” or “to,” but when pros is used in reference to people, it gets translated “with,” and it conveys the idea of personal relationship. John is saying that the Word and the Father are in a close relationship with each other. By itself, this statement is not remarkable. I mean lots of people are in various kinds of relationships, friendships, family relationships and so forth, with many other people. But not only does he say that the Word is with God, he also says, “and the Word was God.”
So there are two crucial concepts that are being communicated here. First of all, the Word and the Father are distinct persons. If they were not distinct persons, then it would be impossible to speak of them being in relationship with each other. You cannot be in relationship with yourself. And yet, though they are distinct in personhood, they are one in essence. That is what he means when he says, “and the Word was God.” There are not two separate gods. This construction emphasizes the fact that the Word possesses the essence of deity equally with God the Father. Another way you could translate this statement is, “what God was, the Word was.” The Word is just as much God as God the Father. And yet He is not the Father, He is distinct from the Father for, as it repeats in verse 2, “He was with God in the beginning.”
So we started this section by asking how the Word relates to the Father. And we have seen that the Word is eternal as God is eternal, we have seen that He is in close relationship with God and is therefore a distinct person from God, and we have seen that He is Himself, God. John goes on to say, “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.” He says, “the life was the light of men”. The life was the light. What does that phrase mean? It’s a little confusing. Well, first of all the life that He has is a special kind of life, not like the life that you and I have, which was given to us. Remember, He is self-existent, He is uncreated, He exists because He just does. In the context, that’s the life that he’s been talking about. He is God, and so He has eternal life as an intrinsic part of His being. And this life, is the light of men.
What does that mean? How is the life, light? The answer, I believe, is that when Jesus gives you His eternal life, the light comes on in your soul and you now have the ability to see God, like you’ve never seen Him before. The life is the life that He has in Himself and the light is the revealing work of Jesus that we’ve been talking about from the beginning. The simple way to say this is that when Jesus gives you life, then, and only then, can you really know God. Jesus reveals God to man, because He is fully God and as we shall see in a little bit, He is also fully man.
He goes on to say that the light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it. Some translations say, “overcome” it. It could be either of those, the word, katelaben, has both meanings, and it may well be that John intended to give a double meaning because both of those concepts fit with the way that Jesus was treated by the world. He was misunderstood constantly, and though they try to overcome Him by crucifying Him. This leads us into verses 6-13, where we see how the Word is received by the World.
II. The Word’s Reception by the World 1:6-13
He says, “There came a man sent from God; his name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. 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 or a husband’s will, but born of God.”
He says that there was a man sent from God whose name was John, a man sent as a witness to testify about the light. Now why was this necessary? Well you may remember that we saw earlier that John, the author of the gospel, was eager to connect Jesus with the Old Testament. He wanted his readers to know that he was not introducing a new god or a new religion. Everything he says about Christ here is intended to build on the information about God in the Old Testament, not to erase the God of the Old Testament. The same principle applies to Jesus’ earthly life. God wanted to make it clear to the Jewish people in Israel that Jesus and His ministry were consistent with His revelation through Moses and the prophets. He wanted Jesus to be authenticated as Israel’s true Messiah.
So how could he do this? By sending someone who staunchly represented true Judaism, to testify in favor of Jesus. John the Baptist was specially qualified for this job because he was a Levite, and because he adopted the clothing, the diet and the message of an Old Testament prophet, calling the nation back to Yahweh. But he made it clear that in order to do that, they had to follow Christ. Glance over to verse 23, see where John says, “I am the voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’” That’s a quote from Isaiah 40 verse 3, and in the Hebrew text that word Lord is Yahweh. John the Baptist says he is preparing the way for Yahweh, and then a few verses later he identifies Jesus as the one whose way he has been preparing - implication being, Jesus is God! John the Baptist was appointed to be the one who would connect the dots from the Old Testament, to Jesus.
Well in verses 10-13 we see that the Word received a mixed response. Even though Jesus is the Creator of the world, when He entered the very world that He had made, they did not recognize Him. This is ironic because Jesus is described here as the true Light that shines on every man. And yet, not every man believed in Him. What this tells us is that there is a difference between being exposed to the light, and understanding or believing in what that light reveals. You see a blind man can stand out in the sunshine all day long, and I am sure he can probably feel the warmth of the sun, but unless his eyes are healed of their blindness, he can stand in the light and he might get a sunburn but he still won’t see anything, because he’s blind. That’s the problem with our hearts. Notice the words that John, the author, uses to describe those who rejected the light; lack of understanding (verse 5), lack of recognition (verse 10), and un-receptiveness (verse 11). However, it says in verse 12 , that some people did respond positively. There were some who believed in his name, and as a result, they were given the right to become children of God, spiritually reborn. This spiritual rebirth is what opens our blind eyes, and allows us to see God through Jesus Christ.
III. The Word’s Revelation of the Father 1:14-18
In verses 14-18 we see How the Word reveals the Father to us. It says, “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. John testifies concerning him. He cries out saying, ‘This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’ From the fulness 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. No one has ever seen God but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.”
These verses are full of parallels to Exodus 33 and 34. John makes these allusions to Exodus because there is a specific problem he wants to address. And that is the problem of how God can be great, and awesome, and holy, separate from all evil, and at the same time be knowable, accessible to fallen humanity. In Exodus 32 we have the story of the golden calf which most of you are familiar with. Moses went up the mountain to meet with God and get the ten commandments and he was gone for 40 days. And when he came down from the mountain and saw the people worshiping the calf, he was so angry that he smashed the stone tablets that God wrote with His own finger. Then God judged the people with a plague and Moses interceded for them so that they were not completely wiped out by the wrath of God. And then, in Exodus 33:3 God told the people to get up and go to the promised land, but He said that His presence would not go up with them because if He did, He might have to destroy them on the way because of their wickedness. When the people heard this they wept because they wanted the presence of God to go with them. All through their wilderness journey it was the presence of God that had delivered them from danger, and provided for all their needs. Even though they were very sinful, they understood that they could not survive without Him in their midst. And yet, because of their wickedness, they could not survive with Him in their midst either. It’s in moments like this that the transcendent holiness of God, seems to be incompatible with the knowability of God.
Moses begged God not to remove His presence from the people. And finally, in Exodus 33:14 God promised him, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” But that still was not enough for Moses, he says to God in verse 18, “Show me your glory.” Look at the way that God answers him. He grants him what he asks for. He hides Moses behind a rock and God passes before him, showing him just a glimpse of His glory, while proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet He does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.” Moses got what he wanted, God showed him His glory, and he revealed His forgiving love and faithfulness. But there was still a problem because in the same moment that God’s beauty and glory were revealed to Moses, God’s wrath against sin was also revealed. This is what must always happen when sinful humans are in the presence of the Holy God.
Apparently Moses was unsure about whether the people were going to be recipients of the love and faithfulness that God just mentioned, or of the punishment that God just mentioned because right after God says this, Moses asks Him again if the glory of His presence is really going to go with the people. And God doesn’t answer with a direct yes or no. Instead, from verses 10-28 of Exodus 34 God responds to Moses’s question by repeating a summary of the entire Law that He had given him already. In other words God’s answer was, “yes, but...these people had better obey.” At the moment when God’s glory was revealed and it Moses must’ve thought, “Finally we’re getting somewhere! God’s glory is going to go with us!” At that very moment he also had to be reminded of the sin problem. There was still a barrier between God and man. Moses comes down from the mountain again, and his face is glowing from being in the presence of God, and the Israelites are so freaked out by that that they make him cover his face with a veil. And for the next 1400 years, that was the best that anybody got. Veiled glory.
Until, John 1:14. “The Word became flesh and pitched His tent among us and we saw His glory! Glory as of the One and Only who came from the Father, full of grace and truth!” Grace and truth. Those words are parallels to the words God used to describe Himself when His glory passed before Moses and He said that He abounds in love and faithfulness - Chesed v’Emet. That’s the Old Testament covenant formula for what the New Testament calls Grace. We experience that love and faithfulness through the grace and truth of Jesus Christ. When the Word of God was given on tablets of stone, it brought condemnation and veiled glory, but when the Word of God became flesh, He dwelt among us, and we finally got to see His glory in the person of Jesus Christ.
We’ve been discussing the problem of how it can be possible for God to be transcendent, and at the same time be knowable. This problem is ultimately resolved in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus reveals God to man because He is God and man. As we study what the Bible says about who Jesus is we discover the doctrine of the Trinity. I hope you’re beginning to see that this doctrine is not just some boring, esoteric, abstract thing for grumpy old men with thick glasses and high-waisted pants. No, this doctrine is at the heart of the gospel. The doctrine of the Trinity resolves the problem that no other religion in the world has been able to resolve: The god of Islam is supposedly great, he is supposedly transcendent, but he is not knowable - the best you can do is submit to him - “Islam” means, submission. Now submission is a biblical concept too. But if that’s as far as your relationship with God goes, you will never be able call him Father. Salvation in this scheme means being a slave forever, but never a son with an inheritance.
The god of Hinduism is on the opposite extreme. In Hinduism, everything that exists is part of god, so sure, god is knowable, god is accessible but in the end, the stated goal of Hinduism is the disappearance of all individual personal distinctions into eternal nothingness. This god is so knowable that his personality is merged with everything that is, and so he is erased. And therefore he is not transcendent and cannot offer us anything that we do not already have within ourselves. Salvation in this scheme simply means that you cease to exist. Christianity is the only religion in the world that has a personal God that is both transcendent and knowable at the same time. There is no god like our God!
So, you wanna know God? Look to Jesus. Believe that Jesus is fully God and fully man, and the promise of Scripture is that He will give you the right to become a child of God. But that’s not all. Becoming a child of God is just the beginning, it’s a means to a greater end, namely - worship. Jesus reveals God to man, so that we may know the transcendent God, so that we may worship Him. Worship of God, in Spirit and in truth, is the highest calling that any of us can ever aspire to. And it’s my prayer that as we continue to study the nature of the One True God who exists eternally as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, (We haven’t said anything about the Holy Spirit yet, but we will do that next week), but my prayer is that studying the Trinity will lead us to worship Him with greater understanding, and greater joy.