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John 1:1-18

The Word Became Flesh
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning.
3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not understood it.
6 There was a man sent from God whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe.8 He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. 9 The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world.
10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.
14 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.
15 John testifies concerning him. He cries out, saying, “This is the one I spoke about when I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’” 16 From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God, but God the one and only Son, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.

The lectionary list of gospel readings has now switched to the beginning of John – which seems a little strange since in recent days it’s listed readings from later in John. I’m not sure why – it’s a mystery. In any case, today’s reading is the introduction to the Gospel of John, and it’s one of the best-known passages in the whole New Testament.

These opening eighteen verses of the Gospel of John set out some of the themes that the rest of the gospel will be exploring in detail. As you might remember, John takes a different approach to telling the story of Jesus and his teachings than you find in the other three gospels. Matthew, Mark and Luke tell the story of the life and teachings of Jesus, and they do it in a fairly straightforward, ‘just-the-facts’ way. But John actually supplies some extra explanation – some of it from Jesus himself – so you get a deeper understanding of the meaning of his teachings.

It’s probably helpful to start our look at this introduction to John by reviewing what we know about this book, because the historical context makes a difference.

The Gospel of John was the last of the four gospels to be published, probably between 90 and 100 AD. By that time, the church had taken root beyond the borders of the Jewish homeland, and spread throughout the Middle East and the Mediterranean basin. Missionaries like the apostle Paul had traveled all over the known world, telling the story of Jesus and establishing churches.

The church historians say that by the time John was published, there were probably more followers of Jesus who had been raised as gentiles than as Jews. These gentile Christians had been raised worshiping pagan gods like Zeus and Mars and Aphrodite.

That meant that many of them had been exposed to Greek philosophy, because it was widely known. Most educated gentiles in that world were raised reading the Greek philosophers. And when you look closely at this introduction to the Gospel of John, it seems pretty clear that the apostle John and his disciples were very concerned to make the story and the teachings of Jesus understandable to people who knew Greek philosophy. And, among the Stoics, who were one of the most influential schools of Greek philosophy, there was a widely-held belief that the universe was organized around a single principle. They believed, as we might say, that there was a ‘point’ or ‘purpose’ to the universe. And the Greek word for this central principle of the universe was logos.

So the compilers of the Gospel of John – probably the disciples of the apostle John – they begin their gospel with the famous words, “In the beginning was the word.” And the Greek term that’s translated ‘word’ in this passage is the term logos. The text goes on to say that Jesus was that logos. In other words, when the authors of the Gospel of John compiled their book, the very first thing they wanted to say was that there really is a principle at the heart of the universe, and that Jesus is that principle. So the universe is really all about Jesus.

That’s actually a point that Jesus himself expressed during his earthly ministry. In Matthew – in the Sermon on the Mount, as a matter of fact – Jesus said that he was “the fulfillment of the Law.” And as we said in our Reflection yesterday, when Jews talked about “the Law,” they meant the Hebrew scriptures, and especially the Torah – the Five Books of Moses. So Jesus was describing himself as the fulfillment of everything God has been doing throughout history. He was making the same point the introduction to John makes, but in different words.

The Christian faith teaches something that’s different from every other faith: the idea that the central principle of the universe was a person, and that person was God in human form. Think about the significance of that: It means that relationships between people are more important than abstract ideas. It means that nothing brings us closer to God’s heart than helping and serving other people. It means that love for God and other people is the highest law.

So that’s why this passage is so important. Because it explained to the world that the meaning of the universe – the principle at its heart – had finally been revealed. That principle is Jesus. And Jesus is not only the principle that the universe is organized around – he wants to be the principle our lives are organized around, too.

Let’s pray. Lord, we ask that by your Spirit, you would open our hearts to accept Jesus as the true center of our lives – as the principle around which those lives are organized. And let our lives display the same love for you and for others that Jesus showed every day he walked among us. Amen.   

Grace and Peace,

Henry