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Monday, September 9, 2013

John 1: 1-10 - The Deity of Christ Affirmed

The first few passages of the first chapter of the Gospel of John are very integral to our faith as Christians.  They emphasize the deity of Jesus Christ by emphasizing many attributes Jesus has as God in the flesh.  This particular passage, due to its importance in emphasizing Christ and His deity, is often read at the conclusion of the traditional Anglo-Catholic Mass, as it is customarily called in that setting the Last Gospel.   Dom Gregory Dix notes that the evolution for the inclusion of the last Gospel in the Anglican Mass is rooted in the 11th century, when it originally was a private devotion but later formally incorporated into the Liturgy in the 16th century (Dom Gregory Dix, On The Shape of The Liturgy {New York: Seabury Press, 1945}p. 526).  Archbishop Haverland also notes that this passage of John’s Gospel explicity teaches that Jesus is the incarnate Word of God, and by the “Light” He imparts new creation and life to those who willingly receive Him (Mark Haverland, Anglican Catholic Faith and Practice {Athens, GA: Anglican Parishes Association, 2011} p. 27-28).  In other words, there is a definite connection between Jesus and His divinity, and our subsequent rebirth through Him, and through the new nature He gives us, we witness to the world around us.  Therefore, the Gospel passage is read at the end of the Liturgy to remind us that we have received something very special, and it is a gift not only freely given to us, but to be shared with the world around us.  

We begin this lesson with a word study on the first verse.  John 1:1 is a familiar passage even to the new believer, and as such it is telling us that Jesus was co-eternal with God, and indeed is God!   When we look at the verbiage “in the beginning” in Greek, what we see is that this is a dative-case phrase, and it can also be read as “from the beginning.”  Therefore, it would not even be wrong to read the verse as saying “The Word (ό Λογος) was from the beginning,” as the placement of this dative clause doesn’t alter the meaning of the text at all.  The “from the beginning” can even be utilized in other parts of the sentence too - for instance, it would proclaim a profound theological truth if one read the passage like this - “The Word was, and the Word was with the God from the beginning,”  or the last clause, “and the Word was the God from the beginning.”   This emphasizes a very important truth - that Jesus is eternal, being fully God as well as being fully man, and this is correlated elsewhere in Scripture, in particular in Revelation 1:8, where Jesus is called “The Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.”  Note also the definite article “the.”  There is something very important about the definite article here, because even the inclusion of something that small affirms a great theological truth.  Some cults, such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses, often claim to have “special insight” into the original language, but when one reads the New World Translation, which is the Jehovah’s Witness Bible, they don’t say “the Word was God,” but rather “the Word was a God.”   Charles Taze Russell, who founded the Jehovah’s Witness sect, claimed to be a Greek scholar, but even with my rudimentary knowledge of Greek I can see Russell made a grave error in translation.  Any credible Greek scholar will tell you that when looking at this verse, the definite article “ό” is always translated as “the,” not “a.”  So, when the passage is translated properly, it does not say “a god,” but rather “the God” (ό Τηεος), just like the proper translation of the phrase “the Word” is from ό Λογος.   So, if one were to summarize and pharaphrase John 1:1, it would communicate this essential truth - the incarnate Word (Jesus Christ) was the God from the beginning!  In other words, it tells us three important facts about Jesus Christ:

1.  He is God
2.  He is part of the Trinity
3.  He was involved in the creative process from the beginning

The reason that John 1:1 is important is that it provides a foundation for John 3:16 later - Jesus’ redemptive act upon the Cross for our sins.  The historic creeds of the Church also uphold these truths as well, for as we recite during our Masses on Sundays in the Nicene Creed, that we believe in Jesus Christ as the only-begotten Son of God, “Begotten of His Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, Very God of very God; begotten not made; being of one substance with the Father, By Whom all things were made…”  Jesus, therefore, is not only the Son of God, but He is indeed God the Son!  Therefore, unlike some agnostic wags who mock our Lord by calling Him “zombie Jesus,” we as Christians affirm that before we were, Jesus is, as one of His titles in Scripture is the “Great I AM.”   This also is communicated further in John 1:2, where Jesus’ involvement in the creative process is affirmed - All things were made through Christ, and without Him creation would not have come to be.  I am amazed sometimes at how ignorant and arrogant some professing Christians are when it comes to the deity of Christ - they are almost ashamed to affirm it!  One classmate I had in graduate school (mind you, this was supposed to be a conservative Pentecostal university too!) even suggested that Jesus was “still evolving” in His understanding and was “still in the learning process.”  Although otherwise that particular classmate is a nice guy, he is also a fool, and an arrogant one at that.  We are not in the position to tell God Himself - and Jesus is God, as He is firmly a part of the triune Godhead - what He supposedly “knows” and “doesn’t know” based on our own finite understanding, and to do so is to say we know more than Jesus, who was from the beginning of the world, and that is the stupidest blasphemy a supposed learned person could utter, especially one who claims to “know” Jesus personally!  However, I have come to the conclusion that a lot of theological education these days lacks, and it lacks on such a serious scale that those claiming to be “theologians” often apostatize their own faith because they discount things that do not fit into their own little boxes - sorry to you theologians, but as Scripture affirms, you profess to be wise but are fools.  The divinity, eternity, and creative attributes of Jesus are not negotiable for the Christian - the Church has defined what those doctrines are, and therefore they should be accepted and not picked apart.  Until some people get that fact, they walk around blinded.  

As we move down to verse 4, we notice that it states that in Jesus is life - this affirms what a key verse says a few chapters later, in 14:6, when Jesus Himself affirms that He - and He alone! - is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life.”  OK, this now ties back into John 1:1, and we look to the wisdom of the Church Fathers, as they explain this more eloquently.  Athenagoras, in his writings, affirms that the Son is the “intelligence, reason, and wisdom of the Father,” which is where this ό Λογος comes in, as the Fathers understood it that way.  Lactantius concurs with this when he says that Jesus is speech (γλοσσα) and reason of God.  Irenaeus likewise calls Jesus the “voice of God” in his writings (David Bercot.  Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs {Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1998} p. 695-697).   “Word,” then, is inextricably connected to Jesus as the “Light” as well, and this “Light” is important because as Origen noted, He takes away from us all the irrational nature of sin and makes us truly reasonable by illuminating or understanding (Bercot, p. 405) - Jesus is the Light therefore, because He brings true enlightenment to those who receive Him.   So, in Jesus, the Word (ό Λογος) we find the source of true life, true reasoning, and He is the one, true God!  In other words, He is not a “zombie” as some agnostic fools have mocked him, nor is he still “growing in knowledge,” as some arrogant “Christian” theologians (also fools) say, but He is the ultimate source of all life and understanding.

We now go to verse 4, and what we see there is that the “Light” of Christ (remember Psalm 119:105?) is life unto man.  That Light shines into the darkness that sin shrouds mankind with, and sin cannot understand life (note here also Psalms 27:1; I John 2:9; and Revelation 21:23), as is communicated in verse 5.  Verse 5 also correlates with other passages, such as Ephesians 5:8 (we were once in darkness, but now walk as children of light), I John 1:5 (God is light and no darkness is found where He is), and John 3:19 (sinful nature loves darkness, and those who practice evil hate the light - the light brings condemnation to such people).  The message here is clear - Jesus is the ultimate source of life, and He is the light of understanding that illumines our souls.  If evil dwells in the soul, the Light of God brings condemnation to it because if we are Christians in particular, this conflicts with the new nature God gave us when Jesus washed away our sins.  For most of the world - and for carnal nature in general - darkness is attractive; sin gratifies the flesh, and human nature seeks to do just that.  This is why in this day and age, one of Satan’s greatest attacks against the true faith is a shroud of darkness when it comes to understanding the grave consequences of sin.  This junk has even infested churches, as now there are so many people professing Christianity yet think their wisdom is so great - again, professing to be wise, they are fools!  When we try to justify, cover up, and redefine behaviors and attitudes to make Scripture conform to them, we fail - that is one reason why “gay marriage” and other such abominations, regardless of what some jack-leg “theologian” or vote-drooling politician says, can never be accepted by someone who walks in the light of God’s Holy Word.  Sinful behavior, while humans are given the free will to indulge in it, is not a civil right; it is a behavior contrary to God’s created order and will reap consequences for those who indulge in such stuff.  Another thing is occultism.  Too many people professing Christianity are messing around in occultic practices - they “read” pictures and engage in other divination practices, many cannot start the day without consulting a horoscope (too bad their Bibles are often neglected!), and they engage in the practice of yoga and other pagan disciplines (Yoga, by the way, is not just some mere “exercise” - it is a discipline associated with Hindu deities and its ultimate and misdirected goal is pantheistic).  These things are “works of darkness” that Christians should not be engaging in.  But, again, many professing Christians tend to try to “get one up” on God, whether intentionally or not, and their own flawed human reasoning clouds their understanding, which is why people claim to follow Jesus but fail to know the Jesus they claim to serve.  

In the next five verses, we see the role of John the Baptist in this.   John, the passage states was sent from God (v. 6) to bear witness of the Light (meaning Christ, in v. 7) in order that people might believe the truth.  Saint Augustine makes a very important point here in saying that the Light borne from God is distinct from the light created by God in that Jesus is not a mere element of physics, like say gamma radiation, but rather is much more.  Jesus is the True Light given to every man coming into the world (v. 9), but there are conditions.  Remember, God did give us free will to accept or reject His Light, and although the gift of salvation and eternal life is given to every human being by Christ’s atoning Passion, a gift has to be received in order to be something that benefits us.  Those who receive the Light of Christ also receive eternal life through Him, as He is the ultimate source of both.  And, as verse 10 affirms, Jesus came into the world to do just that - bestow life to lost humanity.  Yet, as unfortunate as it seems, not everyone receives this most perfect and ultimate gift, because in many cases the world chose not to know Him as a whole - that is why He underwent a lot of persecution when He walked on this earth from, of all people, religious leaders with a sense of self-importance.  Many people have used this rejection of Jesus by the Jewish religious leaders of the day as a justification for anti-semitism, yet many of the same people who have made that charge over the centuries have themselves been part of the religious establishment and guilty of doing the same thing - corrupt, apostate church leadership has been an ever-present and increasing reality, and I want to soapbox that for a minute.  In recent decades, there has been on the part of many “theologians” and “religious leaders” this concerted effort to re-write Christianity in their own image - whether it is the post-modern Emergents who prioritize cultural conformity over theological orthodoxy, off-base theologians like Jurgen Moltmann, who diminishes God by making him subject to time constraints (which God actually transcends) while making man have limitless power over the future (“Jurgen Moltmann and His Theology of Hope,” in The Springfielder, Vol. XXIV, No. 1, June 1970. p 14), and graduate and seminary faculty who diminish and mock basic Christian doctrines to make the Bible and Christian theology conform to their own standards.  This is not something that should shock us as Christians though, because I Timothy 4 warned us about these things happening.  The real shock is how fast a lot of this stuff did happen, however - it is almost as if this mindset exploded like a malignant cancer over much of Christendom in just the past 20 years, and the consequences have been dramatic to say the least.  And, thus, the reason why we must re-affirm basic doctrines that the Church has taught and believed for centuries, and one of the most foundational of those is the divinity of Jesus Christ and His inclusion in the Trinitarian Godhead.  

As I wrap this up today, I am addressing this to some people I know who are professing Christians yet have bought into some of the garbage floating around out there.  Some of these people are pastors too - scary! - and a couple of them are saying they are “still developing their theology.”  If you are a pastor and are saying that, it is time to resign your church, because if you cannot communicate basic doctrine to your people, you risk damning their souls.  There is no need whatsoever for anyone to “develop” their theology if they are in a position of leadership in a church - much of that should have been taken care of after you were discipled as a new Christian, and you should not be trying to “develop” anything in regard to theology or doctrine.  Scripture, as well as the clear teaching of the Church, has already spelled that stuff out for you.  Today, if you are one of those type of people, I am talking to you - you have a spiritual identity crisis, and you need to get in that prayer closet, get on your knees, and have a nice heart-to-heart with the Lord.  Then, until you are absolutely sure you accept what the Church has historically taught, you need to step down and let God do a work of restoration in your spirit.  We are in perilous times, people - there is no time to play games, or try to “figure out” or “develop” your theology if you are a minister!  You had best know what you believe, pray for the understanding you need to believe it if you are struggling, and mostly get ministered to before you go ministering to others!  Harsh words?  Maybe, but sometimes the most unpleasant medicine is the best.  And, John 1 is a good place for you to start, because within the 10 verses we just discussed is contained the orthodox Christology of the Church, as believed since its inception.   Jesus is the Word, and in Him (and Him alone!) is to be found true life and understanding.  Seek that, pastor, and re-commit yourself to proclaiming that message instead of some postmodernist, Emergent fluff.  God bless you until next time.