Saying ‘Yes!’ to Jesus in a new decade: Duncan’s sermon on John 1:1-18

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‘It’s an amazing gospel passage,’ Duncan exclaimed at the start of his sermon on Sunday, a sermon for the start of a new year, and a new decade.  He was preaching on John 1:1-18.

The passing of another year, and another decade reminds us that life is dynamic and changing in both positive and negative ways. Duncan asked us to reflect on the changes we have experienced personally – perhaps changes in in family and in friendships, in work and in health.

The rapidity of change causes us to question ‘Lord, is there anything solid, anything or anyone that can hold us, and help us to life our lives to the full even in the middle of uncertainty?’

THE TEACHING OF JOHN 1

The immensity of Jesus

Unlike Matthew and Luke, John begins his gospel not with the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem.  He goes back to the very beginning, to the foundation of the world:

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 all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcomeit.  (John 1:1-5)

Many scholars believe that these words originated in a hymn sung by the early church and then incorporated into John’s gospel.  The words of John 1 are packed with powerful symbolism which still resonates with us – Word, Light, Life.

Jesus was, with God, part of the very act of creation in the beginning. His, as Graham Kendrick has put it were the ‘hands that flung stars into space.’ And the implication of linking Jesus’ arrival in Bethlehem with his involvement in  the original creation is that he has come to bring about a new kind of creation. ‘Creation 2.0,’ said Duncan.

Something massive is going on: this is the axis point of human history

Communicating Jesus in a different culture

And John 1 also signifies that a major change was going on in the early church. Jesus was a Jew; his disciples were Jewish; his ministry was contained within an area about the size of the Highland Council area; he spoke Aramaic, and taught within a Jewish cultural context.

But after Pentecost, and the dispersal of many Christians from Jerusalem following persecution there, the good news about Jesus spread rapidly, and reached the Greek-speaking areas along the Mediterranean seaboard.

Question, said Duncan. ‘How do you share the story about Jesus to an audience who know nothing about the Jewish culture in which Jesus was rooted?’

What’s happening in John 1 is that John is talking a philosophical idea which was familiar to Greek-speaking people – the Logos, the Word.  Heraclitus had begun teaching about the Word around 560BC.

Duncan explained: ‘The basic idea behind this concept was that everything was in a constant state of flux. But, far from being haphazard, this change and flux was ordered and controlled, following a continuous pattern. And Heraclitus attributed this ordering to the Logos, the Word, God’s reason.  Heraclitus believed that people had the ability to judge between right and wrong,  and had the ability to think logically and rationally because the Logos of God dwelled within them.’

The immensity of Jesus comes among us

John was writing for people whose cultural background was Greek using concepts which they would understand. ‘You’ve heard about the Logos?’ he’s saying. ‘Well, the Logos has come to earth! His name is Jesus.  The Logos is not remote and distant like all the Greek gods!

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)

Duncan particularly likes Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of this verse from The Message:

The Word became flesh and blood,
and moved into the neighbourhood.
We saw the glory with our own eyes,
the one-of-a-kind glory,
like Father, like Son,
Generous inside and out,
true from start to finish.

Jesus is the Logos, says John. As the Logos, Jesus comes to us. Jesus is both God and human.

‘There’s a lot to get our heads round,’ said Duncan.

THREE LESSONS FROM JOHN 1

Next, Duncan shared three aspects of John 1 which spoke particularly to him:

Invitation

At the start of this new year and new decade. Jesus (the immense Logos who becomes one of us) invites us to share in his life and light as part of the family:

…to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God ….. born of God. (John 1:12-13)

The passage faces us with a choice. Not a one-off choice, but a daily choice to say ‘Yes!’ to Jesus, ‘Yes!’ to being and living as part of the family, ‘Yes!’ to following wherever Jesus leads.

It’s an invitation to ‘receive’, to be daily receptive and responsive to him.

Communication

Duncan asked us to reflect on all the changes there have been in communication over the last decade.

In the time of the early Christians, as culture changed, so the church changed the way it communicated the gospel message. John frames his story in a completely different way, speaking the language of those with whom he seeks to communicate.

As members of the family of Jesus we live in a world which is markedly different from what it was a decade ago.

Duncan asked us to reflect whether John’s Gospel challenges how we communicate in a way which is understandable to a culture which has none of the language and heritage we have as part of the church.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory… (John 1:14)

And  Duncan challenged us ‘What would it mean for this light and life and glory to be seen in Hilton in the reality of daily life?’

‘Keep it real! Make who we are intelligible to a watching world.’

Grace and Truth

The words which spoke most to Duncan personally were these:  that Jesus came from the Father ‘full of grace and truth’ (John 1:14)

The word ‘grace’ is used four times in John’s gospel, and all four usages are in the first chapter.

 Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.  (John 1:16-17)

‘Grace’ isn’t mentioned later in the gospel – but it’s clearly visible in the life of Jesus which John goes on to describe.

The challenge is this ‘What might it mean for us in 2020 to reflect as individuals and a people, a life which is ‘Full of Grace and Truth.’

Let’s commit to choosing to follow Jesus in this new decade, this new year and learn more of what it means to be ‘full of grace and truth.’

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