Having the right tool for the job is fundamental for getting the job not only done, but done correctly. I learned this firsthand in my days as a quick lube mechanic. I remember walking into the shop on my first day, sitting down with the shop manager to learn the ins and outs of how the shop ran. After a lengthy introduction he extended his hand and gave me a small flathead screwdriver. I was puzzled at first, and couldn’t see how such a small tool could ever be of use in this line of work. But he looked me in the eye and said, “I give every new guy this small flathead, because it’s fundamental to the work we do here.” As I thanked him, walked out, and began working I couldn’t for the life of me understand how this little tool would be something I use so often. But as I progressed in my knowledge and skill, I grew more comfortable with the small wrench, and found that I was using it to do all sorts of things I never dreamed of. In fact, the more comfortable I became with it, the more confident I grew in my ability to work on any car that happened to come in the shop.
I begin with this today because as soon as we enter the gospel of John we find something similar. The first section of John 1 is fundamental to Christian belief. So fundamental in fact, that without them we lose much of the Christianity we know. As with this little tool, the more comfortable you are with these verses the more confident you’ll become about your Christian belief. And confidence, or a firm certainty about our convictions is exactly why John wrote this gospel account. In 20:30-31 he says, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name.” John didn’t write his gospel to give an indifferent observation, no, he wrote this account to persuade us that these things are true and life-giving.
John 1:1-18 forms what has come to be known as ‘The Prologue.’ Only John gives us an introduction like this. Matthew and Luke begin with birth narratives while Mark begins with Jesus’ baptism. John begins with an 18 verse introduction intended to answer basic questions about Jesus. Questions like: Who is He? Why did He come? Where is He from? As John answers these questions we cannot help but find ourselves simply astounded. Concerning this prologue the notes in the Gospel Transformation study Bible say this, “The prologue of John’s gospel is like the opening movement of a grand symphony. It is meant to grab our attention and draw us into the story – the story of all stories.” R.C. Sproul in his commentary on John likewise states, “No portion of the New Testament captured the imagination and the attention of the Christian intellectual community for the first three centuries more than this brief section.”
Three things to see in the first eleven verses of this prologue.
A Distinct Deity (v1-5)
“In the beginning…” These first three words are words we should all be familiar with. John isn’t the only one to begin his writing with them, Moses begins Genesis with them as well. That John uses the same words here is intended to teach us that just as God did His work of creation then, God is now doing His work of new creation here. How does God intend to carry out His work of new creation? v1-3 continues, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God, and the Word was with God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made.” Think back to Genesis again. In Genesis we see God creating all things by speaking them into existence saying “Let there be…” and there was. Now in this work of new creation it’s clear that God’s bringing it about by something John calls “the Word.” This Word is not only present in beginning of all things, John says the Word is God and the Word is with God. That the Word is God shows that the Word is Deity or identified with God, but also when John says the Word is with God he shows that the Word is distinct or distinguished from God. Both full-blown Deity and divine distinction are present in the Word.
To further add to this did you notice there’s an addition in v3 that’s not in v1-2? v3 refers to the Word as “Him.” This prohibits us from speaking of the Word as an impersonal force or some kind of vague power. That John refers to the Word as ‘Him’ means the Word is a Person, indeed one of the three Persons in the Trinity. To further add again, when taking into account the Greek translation of Word, which is ‘logos’, leads us to even more. The logos was a Greek philosophical concept used to convey an abstract force that brought harmony, order, and reason into the universe. So in order for the Greeks to be wise or on the right path to wisdom they had to be in touch with the logos. Well John uses this loaded Greek term here in the beginning of his gospel to teach us the true meaning of ‘logos.’ It’s not an impersonal force that brings harmony, order, and reason into the universe, no, the logos is none other than God’s divine self-expression. Hebrews 1:1-3 confirms this saying, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days God has SPOKEN to us by His Son, whom He appointed the heir of all things, through whom He also created the world. He (the Son) is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature…” This Word of John 1:1-3 is none other than the Word God spoke to create the world in Genesis 1. But it’s more than just language, the Word is God wrapped in skin, or to say it another way God’s very Son.
When we come to v4-5 we see John bring up themes that are all found in abundance within Genesis: life, light, and darkness. Not surprisingly these are some of the major themes of John’s gospel. Specifically in v4-5 we see that while God spoke the world into being and shattered the dark void during creation, so too God sent His Word into the world and the Word’s life and light shatter the dark void of this sinful world during new creation. The Word of v1-3 in v4-5 is the source of life and this life is the source of all light in the world and in men. No wonder why John include the time when Jesus said, “I am the Light of the World. Whoever follows Me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (8:12) It is true, light and darkness are opposites. It’s also true that some speak of the Christian life as a battle between these opposites. Though this is true to a degree, do not believe the lie that they are opposites of equal power. The light of the Word, the light of Christ overcomes all darkness. This is why John would later write this in 1 John 2:8, “…the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining.” So through the Word life and light come into the darkness, and even though some may mock at the song or phrase, when one comes to faith in Christ one truly has ‘seen the light.’
A Humdrum Humility (v6-8)
About that light, in v6-8, John moves to what seems to be an intrusion into a text full of timeless truths. John probably brings up John the Baptist for two reasons: first, to remind us that these timeless truths mentioned in v1-5 are actually attached to real history. And second, because of the fame of John the Baptist, it seems that (even though he repeatedly told people otherwise) some thought he was the “light” that had come into the world. One example of this is found in Acts 18:25 where Luke mentions that the famed orator Apollos only ‘knew of the baptism of John.’ So to remove all doubt the apostle John makes it explicit that the John the Baptist wasn’t the light, but rather had come to bear witness about the light.
In v6-8 we see such a stark difference with what came before. In the introduction of the Word in v1-3 we see an eternal existence, One who is God, One who is with God, and One whom the world was made through, and in v6 we see something different. “There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.” That’s it. The contrast is blinding when you think of majestic words given to Jesus and the mundane words given to John. But the Baptist would have it no other way! He knew his task – to bear witness to one infinitely greater than he. One day soon this Baptist would say “He must increase, I must decrease.” He truly was called by God, and that is great, but don’t miss is – the message he preached was exemplified in his introduction to us here. We would be fools to think we could do life any other way…to think that we’ll gain honor in this world by preaching the greatness of another. Not in a million years. The character of the kingdom is decrease, not increase.
An Illuminating Incarnation (v9-11)
This third and last section for us today begins with the remedy for those who thought John was the true light. “The true Light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.” Here the Word of v1-3 is said to be both the Light come into the world, but the source of all true illumination in the world. Recall v4, “In Him is life and the life is the light of men.” John the Baptist is the Light, this Word is the Light, and in His light all the darkness of sin and unbelief scatters. But notice how this happened. v7 says the Baptist came as a witness to the Light, and here in v9 it says the Word came into the world as the Light. The Word came. Where was the Word before He came? v1-3 tell us He not only was God but that He was with God as well. So the Word that was God and with God left the throne of God and came here among us. And with His coming there also came a holy light that illumines the hearts of men. Speaking of this illumination, the Swiss theologian Heinrich Bullinger once said when Christ comes as Light into our hearts He comes to, “…instruct, to regenerate, to vivify, to sanctify, to liberate, and to justify.” Or as David Crowder says, “God spoke, and my heart, it burst to life!”
Yet, though the Word was God and with God, and though the world had been made through the Word, when the Word came v10-11 says the Word was rejected. This is a summary statement of what would eventually happen to Jesus Christ during His earthly ministry, during His incarnation. The world did not know Him, His own people rejected Him, He was not received. There is no greater wickedness. There is no greater evil. There is no greater sin than to reject Jesus Christ. Many people, believers and unbelievers alike, know and could quote John 3:16 verbatim without a moment of hesitation. Few people can quote John 3:18, “Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”
Historically this prologue is significant. Many rejected these very things, taught other things, been tried by Church councils, and condemned as heretics for teaching false doctrine. Men such as: Arius, Apollinaris, Eutychus, and Nestorius are some examples of men who denied John 1 and taught that Jesus isn’t who John says He is. For more modern examples: did you know Jehovah’s Witness have altered the translation of John 1:1 because they reject Jesus’ deity? Did you know Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism, also altered the translation of John 1:1 for the same reason? To move away from John 1 will still leave you with many beliefs, but those beliefs will not be Christian to any degree. Many churches and many Christians can disagree on many things and still remain Christian. But no one can call themselves a Christian while rejecting the deity and distinction of the eternal Son of God, Jesus Christ.