Friday, September 21, 2007

John 1:11-13

11He came to that which was His own, but His own did not receive Him. 12Yet to all who received Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God - 13children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God.

V11-13 – Notice the language used here: John says essentially that Jesus came to the place where He already was. He came into the world Incarnate, though He was already here as the Light. Jesus, the Light of the World, came to the people who should have expected Him, and they rejected Him. And if they rejected Him, who would have thought that the rest of the world would accept Him? Even though His own did not receive Him, some did receive Him. This is what Paul labored to explain in Romans 9-11 – that it was God’s good purpose to bring this to pass in order that His salvation would extent to every tribe, tongue, and nation worldwide. Calvin says, “The Jews’ impiety was no obstruction to Christ; for He erected elsewhere the throne of His kingdom, and called indiscriminately to the hope of salvation all nations which formerly appeared to have been rejected by God.” Thus, John says that even though His own rejected Him, those who did receive Him are privileged to be given the right (the claim, the power, the fitness) to be called sons of God. Fallen humans are not God’s children by nature (Ephesians 2:3); through faith by a sovereign act of God (regeneration) we are given that privilege.

This is a controversial passage in regards to the order of salvation. Which comes first: Regeneration or Faith? Casual readers (Arminians) generally come to this passage and say that it is a clear testimony to not only the offer of salvation to all, but also the enabling to turn to faith in Christ for all. Calvin says, “They infer that it is this grace only that is offered to us, and that the liberty to enjoy or to reject it is placed at our disposal. But this frivolous attempt to catch at a single word is set aside by what immediately follows; for [John] adds, that they become the sons of God, not by the will which belongs to the flesh, but when they are born of God.” So it’s completely true that all who receive Jesus are sons of God. It’s just wrong to see from this passage that all are able to receive Him. Others (Calvinists) take this passage and move into v13 with it. Who gets the right to become sons of God? Whoever believes in, whoever receives Jesus gets it. Who believes in / receives Christ? None are able to do so, unless the Father enables them (John 6:63), unless they are compelled (Luke 14:23); none are able unless the Father draws or “drags” them (John 6:44). Those who believe are not believers by their flesh (ancestry), nor by their will, but as Calvin says, “They are already born of God. It is not therefore, a mere liberty of choice that is offered, since they obtain the privilege itself that is in question.” Those born of God receive Christ. John labors to explain this in detail throughout his gospel, but for now, consider Galatians 4:3-9: “So also, when we were children, we were in slavery under the basic principles of the world. But when the time had fully come, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father.’ So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir. Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods. But now that you know God—or rather are known by God…” For more, see: John 3:6-8; 8:42; 10:27; 15:16; 17:6; 18:37; Acts 13:48; Ephesians 2:1-10; 1 John 5:1-2

Calvin concludes, “…Faith does not proceed from ourselves, but is the fruit of spiritual regeneration; for John affirms that no man can believe, unless he be begotten of God; and therefore faith is a heavenly gift. It follows…that faith is not bare or cold knowledge, since no man can believe who has not been renewed by the Spirit of God… When the Lord breathes faith into us, He regenerates us by some method that is hidden and unknown to us; but after we have received faith, we perceive, by a lively feeling of conscience, not only the grace of adoption, but also newness of life, [fellowship with God Himself,] and the other gifts of the Holy Spirit…So far as respects our sense, it is only after having believed – that we begin to be the sons of God. But if the inheritance of eternal life is the fruit of adoption, we see how John ascribes the whole of our salvation to the grace of Christ alone; and, indeed, how closely soever men examine themselves, they will find nothing that is worthy of the children of God, except what Christ has bestowed on them.” Regeneration precedes faith, yet it is not a chronological priority, but a logical one. None believe apart from being born again, and none born again fail to believe. There is no life apart from receiving Christ.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

John 1:9-10

9The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world [or This was the true light that gives light to every man who comes into the world]. 10He was in the world, and though the world was made through Him, the world did not recognize Him.

V9-10 – The true Light enlightened the world, but the world did not recognize Him. Jesus, as the true Light, gives light to the world. “True” here means eternal or heavenly as opposed to temporal or earthly. Back to the Arians again, they say that Genesis 1 points to God’s begetting of Jesus as the Light when He said, “Let there be Light.” The sun and moon came on day 4, so the light of the world – here said to be Jesus Christ – was the light created by God as the first day of creation unfolded. And Jesus is the light that gives light to the sun and other luminous creations. How do we refute that claim?

C.S. Lewis again offers an analogy: “We do not truly see light, we only see slower things lit by it, so that for us light is on the edge – the last thing we know before things become too swift for us… I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen. Not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” Some (i.e., Augustine) have argued that “the light that gives light to every man” is actually only given to the elect. Calvin disagrees saying, “Men have this peculiar excellence which raises them above other animals, that they are endued with reason and intelligence, and that they carry the distinction between right and wrong engraved on their conscience. There is no man, therefore, whom some perception of the eternal light does not reach.” John Piper’s assessment of this passage is perhaps the best: “The enlightenment of every man is probably not universal reason or intellect or the common grace of knowledge (as Calvin said) because: (1) the next verse shows people unknowing and blind to the light (Augustine’s reason for his claim); (2) light in this Gospel comes as judgment into the world and causes people either to approach or reject; (3) the meaning of photizo (1 Corinthians 4:5; 2 Timothy 1:10) means ‘shed light on so as to bring out the true quality of.’ This is probably the meaning here.”

Therefore, when we read that the true light gives light to every man, we ought to understand this to mean that Jesus reveals the condition of every man and the condition of the world, that is, a state of corruption, total depravity. Again, this foreshadows John 3:19-21, where we learn the reason for the world’s failure to recognize the Light. By choice, due to the sin nature of darkness, the Light is undesirable. Isaiah 53:2 “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to Him, nothing in His appearance that we should desire Him.” Calvin says that “no proper excuse can be found for the ignorance of the world in not knowing Christ,” even for those in the world before the Incarnation, as His rays of light give light to the world.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

John 1:6-8,15

6There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John. 7He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe. 8He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. 15John 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.' "

John the Baptist: A Witness to the Light

God’s way of letting the light of Christ shine in the world and pushing back the darkness is by human witnesses. We’ll hear more of John the Baptist in the next portion of chapter 1 and through to the end of chapter 3. In the meantime, John is introduced as a witness sent by God who testifies concerning Jesus. John 5:34 tells us that Jesus did not require nor seek the testimony of others. His testimony – in agreement with that of the Father – was enough. Thus, John the Baptist’s ministry was not for Jesus but for us. We are the ones who require signs and wonders and witnesses and testimonies, not Jesus. And when we read that “all men might believe” as the purpose for which John testified about Christ, we are introduced to the first Greek “hina” clause. A more literal reading of this in v7 would be, “in order that all [kinds of men] would certainly believe.” We’ll see many examples of John’s use of this Greek literary device in his gospel, but the point I’d make in introducing it here is that there is a potentially vast difference in reading the English translation and studying the Greek. We’re better off to study the Greek to get the intended meaning of the author. Do you see the difference?

John was not the light. The Gospel writer includes this statement, probably because John’s own light was indeed bright, and many failed to see the light of Christ because their vision was blurred by John’s light. We are the light of the world, and our light is meant to turn others to the source of our light, the True Light in its fullness – Jesus Christ. Yet, as was the case for the miracle-performing apostles, many bowed to worship them, rather than be directed to Jesus. Even our writer, John, bowed in Revelation 22:8-9 to worship an angel, who was bright with light, but the angel corrected him, saying, “No! Worship God.” Thus both Johns tell us that the Baptist was not the Christ, just a light pointing to the brighter light.

God says about John the Baptist in Malachi 3:1, “See, I will send My messenger, who will prepare the way before Me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to His temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come.” And in Malachi 4:5, “See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes.” We’ll talk more about these passages next time, as we get a more detailed view of John’s testimony.

Notice in v15 that John said that Jesus, who would come after him, has surpassed him, because He came before him. John the Baptist was a little older than Jesus, and his public ministry began a little before that of Jesus, and we all know that Jesus was truly existent before John the Baptist, yet the intent here is that Christ was justly preferred to John, because He was more excellent. John, wholeheartedly devoted to the preaching of the Kingdom of God coming with Jesus Christ, therefore surrenders his office to Christ. That is why Jesus says in Matthew 11:11 (Luke 7:28), “I tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

John 1:4-5

4In him was life, and that life was the light of men. 5The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood [or overcome] it.

V4-5 – In Him was life, the light of men, shining in the darkness, which has not understood or overcome it. John explains in his prologue that Jesus is life, and in Him is life, and that life, as the light of men, shines and neither understood nor overcome by the darkness of sin. This is a brief introduction to John 3:19-21, where we read that men love darkness and hate the light because their deeds are evil.

John has shown us that Jesus created all things. And here we see that He sustains all things. “In Him was life.” This applies to not only animate life, but also all that exists and does what it is supposed to do according to the will of God – that is, Jesus. Consider a rock. It glorifies God by doing what a rock is supposed to do. Consider a tree. It glorifies God by doing what it is supposed to do. And the same is true for humans. Paul says in Acts 17:28: “For in Him we live and move and have our being.” It is God who gives life, but this happens only through Jesus. John Piper says, “When John says, ‘In Him was life and that life was the Light of men,’ he probably means that Jesus Christ, the Word-made-flesh, is both the power to see spiritual splendor and the splendor seen.” This statement fits with an overall theme of John’s gospel – the battle between the spiritual and the physical, between faith and unbelief.

“That life was the light of men.” Calvin says that John is speaking of the light of understanding that humans have but that other creatures lack. There is a human spirituality that is not seen in other creatures, and this is a result of Jesus’ creation and sustaining of life. Again, we appeal to Paul from Acts 17:26-27: “From one man [God] made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and He determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek Him and perhaps reach out for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us.” God imparts His light to men that we might worship Him. Humans worship. That’s who we are. But we worship the wrong thing in the wrong way. By His grace, God grants us the ability and willingness to worship Him rightly.

Though our sinfulness has brought in darkness, the light still shines. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome or understood it.” At the end of v5 is a play on words: the Greek word can mean either “understand,” or “overcome”. It seems as if John has both these words in mind: the unbelieving world-at-large does not understand the marvelous gospel of grace; but they can never conquer the powerful truth of the Gospel. Humans still have a recognizance of God. But they deny Him (Romans 1). Humans have not understood Him, due to sin. But that sinfulness cannot overcome Jesus. Calvin says, “The light which was originally bestowed on men must not be estimated by their present condition; because in this corrupted and degenerate nature light has been turned into darkness. And yet [John] affirms that the light of understanding is not wholly extinguished; for, amidst the thick darkness of the human mind, some remaining sparks of the brightness still shine… The mind of man is blinded; so that it may justly be pronounced to be covered with darkness. For he might have used a milder term, and might have said that the light is dark or cloudy; but he chose to state more distinctly how wretched our condition has become since the fall of the first man. The statement that the light shines in darkness is not at all intended for the commendation of depraved nature, but rather for taking away every excuse for ignorance.”

What is this light? We can see it as both a spirituality (everybody is going to worship something or someone) and a moral conscience (everybody knows the general principles of right-and-wrong). The light is not, as some claim, the innate ability of mankind to co-operate with God in salvation. This light is not that grace. Calvin concludes, “Since man lost the favor of God, his mind is so completely overwhelmed by the thralldom of ignorance, that any portion of light which remains in it is quenched and useless. This is daily proved by experience; for all who are not regenerated by the Spirit of God possess some reason, and this is an undeniable proof that man was made not only to breathe, but to have understanding. But by that guidance of their reason they do not come to God, and do not even approach to Him; so that all their understanding is nothing else than mere vanity. Hence it follows that there is no hope of the salvation of men, unless God grant new aid; for though the Son of God sheds his light upon them, they are so dull that they do not comprehend whence that light proceeds, but are carried away by foolish and wicked imaginations to absolute madness” – ala Romans 1.

A summary of v1-5 might be best achieved by working through these verses backwards. The point is that the Light triumphs over darkness. Why? Because Jesus is the living Light. Jesus is the source of energy and power; He cannot be extinguished. He has purpose and motion; He’s dynamic and lacks no motivation. He grows and expands His presence. And He makes His people lights in the darkness (John 12:36). Furthermore, Jesus is the Creator Light. Nothing that has been made (matter, ex nihilo) came into existence apart from Him. And lastly, the Light is God. God, by definition, triumphs.

Monday, September 17, 2007

John 1:1-3

1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was with God in the beginning. 3Through Him all things were made; without Him nothing was made that has been made.

John gives us the Deity of Christ early and often in His Gospel. Notice the parallel to Genesis 1:1 right off the bat – “In the beginning…” Matthew and Luke begin with Jesus’ birth, but John takes us back to before the universe was created. We know from this passage that John is calling Jesus “the Word” or “logos.” Aristotle said that three things can convince men of truth: the ethos (personal character of the speaker) the pathos (persuasion from within) and the logos (the proof or evidence). The logos, to the Greek mind, was the ultimate proof or evidence. In the beginning was the proof, and this proof was with God, and the proof was God Himself. Jesus is the proof. John Calvin says, “Jesus is the eternal Wisdom and Will of God; He is the lively image of His purpose…God reveals Himself to us by His Speech.” Why the Word? Clear communication. Words are important – “Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34). Jesus’ role as Mediator serves to clearly communicate the Father to us in His Incarnation and in a strange way, clearly communicate us to the Father through His death on the cross to pay for our sins.

An early church heresy, known as Arianism, claimed that Jesus was the first of all God’s creation, that God the Father existed apart from Jesus for some time. But John refutes that right here, saying that the Word was in the beginning, and the Word was with God the Father in the beginning, and the Word was God, and nothing was made apart from Him. Even before manifesting His presence through speaking to His people or through the Incarnation, The Word was and has always been. He was begotten, not made, and He has never not been. “Before Abraham was, I AM” (John 8:58). C.S. Lewis gives a good analogy here: Picture two books, one on top of the other, sitting on a coffee table. While we may logically perceive that the book on the bottom had to be there first, it could be said that the two books were there simultaneously, and as such, the bottom book begets the top book. While the Father has logical priority, His priority is not chronological as well. From the beginning, the Father and the Son were One with the Spirit, and all three Persons of the Godhead were inseparably active in creation. This Arian heresy (akin to modern day Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons) will come up again in v9-10.

So Christ is above all creation, “One in being with the Father” (the Word was God – ala the Nicene Creed), yet He is also eternally distinct from the Father (the Word was with God). “With” implies an intimate personal relationship. And that’s hard to understand. Hebrews 1:3 helps: “
The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being, sustaining all things by His powerful Word.” God is One Essence, yet three Substances or Persons. John Piper says, “Everything we are and believe as Christians depends upon this: That Jesus Christ is God and Jesus Christ is man.” . Consider the H20 analogy – water is solid, liquid, and gas. Notice how v2 summarizes v1. Jesus is the One, True God, yet He is eternally distinct from God the Father. And v3a gives us evidence of this doctrinal truth. Jesus is proven to be God by the fact that He made all things. Genesis 1:1 tells us that God created the universe, and everybody knows it. We learned that in Romans 1:19-21. Paul gives credit to God for all things (Romans 11:36). John tells us that this truth is evidence that Jesus is God, because, as v3b says, nothing that was made – or even, as we see both in the next couple verses and elsewhere in Scripture, sustained – was made or sustained apart from Him.