The Preexistent Word
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The Preexistent Word

From Series: Behind the Scenes of Christmas

John 1:1-5  (ID: 2417)

In the opening of his Gospel, John declared a series of specific truths about Christ. With unique language reminiscent of the opening of Genesis, he showed that Jesus has existed for eternity, functions in perfect relationship with the Father, and is actually God Himself. As Alistair Begg walks us through this passage, he reminds us that while we often get distracted during the Christmas season, we should make time to examine Christ and the extraordinary blessings of His incarnation.


Sermon Transcript:

Father, grant that the words that we sing and say may truly be the expression of our hearts, and then come to our hearts, Lord Jesus, and find room in them for a wide and a warm welcome. Fulfill the plans and purposes that you have, gracious God, from all of eternity for the lives of each one here in this moment. For the sake of your Son, Jesus, we ask it. Amen.

I invite you to turn to the portion of Scripture that was read in the prologue of John’s Gospel, which is the opening section of the Gospel. It’s followed by some significant chapters, and then there’s essentially an epilogue, and we’re not going to be dealing with very much of it at all; we’re coming just to the opening two verses. And we come to this this morning in light of what we said last time: that we wanted to take four passages of Scripture, in these Sunday mornings of December, that would allow us, as we said, to get behind the scenes of the birth narratives that are given to us in the Gospel of Matthew and in the Gospel of Luke.

Last time we dealt with those few verses in Galatians 4—“When the fulness of … time [had] come, God sent forth his Son”[1]—and this morning we deal with the opening two verses of the Gospel of John.

You can safely assume that by the time John is writing his Gospel, the faith of the believers for whom he writes—as well as for unbelievers to whom he writes—the faith of believers was being challenged and was being undermined by the people who opposed the followers of Christ. Any cursory reading of the first three centuries of the Christian church makes it clear to us that they were not enjoying some tranquil existence, but that for them to name the name of Jesus and to follow him was to put them in a position that confronted them by terror and by all kinds of animosity.  

And the kind of things that would’ve been said to the followers of Jesus in those early days were things like these: Why is it that so few of Jesus’ own people actually became his followers? Why is it that so few from a Jewish background—if Jesus himself was Jewish and came as he did in the fulfillment of the prophecies of old—why is it that Jesus found so little acceptance amongst his own people? And why is it, too, that when you look, largely, at the people who became his followers, most of them are just fisherfolk or tax collectors, and you have to look really, really hard to find any of the leading lights of the community? They’re largely not there. Those are the kind of questions that would’ve been going around.

And partly in response to that, John was writing his Gospel, and doing so assuming on the part of his readers a knowledge of the Synoptic Gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke. That is why when you read John’s Gospel, you find yourself, if you’re alert, saying, “You know, there’re lots of bits and pieces missing out of this Gospel, as it were, especially if you start with the Synoptics.” Well, of course, they’re not missing; it’s just that John has selected material under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and he has done so according to his stated purpose.

And we need be in no doubt as to his stated purpose, because he gives it to us right before the epilogue. And in chapter 20:30, John says to his readers, “Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book.”[2] In other words, he says, “I haven’t put everything in my Gospel. I haven’t told you everything. If the things that Jesus had said and done were to be written down, it would involve a much larger book than this.” But he says, “I want you to know that the things that are written down are written”[3]—now notice—“that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ.”[4] Notice he says, “I haven’t written this down so that you may have Jesus in your heart.” He says, “I have written this down so that you may believe in the identity of Jesus: that he is the promised Messiah and that he is the very Son of God, and that by believing in the historicity and the identity and the provision of this Jesus, you may then have life in his name—a life which will invade your heart and fill your life and grow up inside of you to consume your very existence.”

It’s important for us to remind ourselves that when we read the Gospels—not least of all, John—that we’re not reading the work of a detached biographer. We’re not reading some kind of impartial history, but we are reading the work of an evangelist who is seeking to secure converts.  He is writing his Gospel in order that those who are undergoing a challenge may in the reading of the Gospel have the truth reinforced for them—believers—and that those who as yet do not believe may actually become believers.

And there’s the sense in which that is the way we seek to teach the Bible here all the time at Parkside. Every time I stand to teach the Bible, I recognize that there are all kinds of people in the room. There are people who believe and need encouragement, there are people who are believing and need correction, there are people who don’t believe but are open to the possibility of believing and need information and nudging along the way, there are others who don’t believe and flat out don’t want to believe and are annoyed that they’re even here. And you’ve got all of these people before you; you don’t know who they are, and it would be unwise to try and deduce from some of their faces, because faces can be so deceitful when it comes to what’s going on behind our eyes. But the great confidence is that God knows, since he made us all, and that he is able to match the needs of each life to the truth of his Word.

Now, to the extent that that is true in first-century Palestine (first-century Judea and the surrounding world)—i.e., that the gospel is being undermined and challenged—the fact is that it is being undermined and challenged today, that we live in a climate, a social climate, that constantly refutes the Bible. And some of us are greatly alarmed because of all the nonsense about Christmas trees and Christmas displays and little things that go in the public square and so on—all kinds of alarm being generated. It really is, in one sense, frankly irrelevant. You can’t imagine the disciples in Jesus’ day going around putting these little crèches up in the middle of the town and being greatly alarmed if somebody knocked them over, or if the Roman authorities said they resented them or they didn’t like them. They didn’t have time for fiddling around with dolls’ houses; they were being thrown to the lions and being persecuted. They had bigger fish to fry than whether the secular culture was interested in having their little Christmas displays.  

No, no, you see, the great issues of our day are the issues I’m about to explain to you. We can easily be sidetracked by these things, because we think they’re of ultimate importance, but we only need to travel a little bit, we only need to listen to our friends, we only need to hear what’s going on in Nepal, or in Egypt, or in Pakistan, or in India, or in Afghanistan, and know that our brothers and sisters there would be completely intrigued at our preoccupation with stuff which from their perspective would seem to have to do with our own sense of propriety being offended rather than our understanding of the gospel being challenged.

Now, we share with the time in which and to which John writes similar circumstances. Irenaeus quotes Polycarp, who was the Bishop of Smyrna, who described a scene in Ephesus where John, the writer of this Gospel, was seen making a run from one of the central bathhouses, and he was shouting as he went, apparently, “[Let’s flee], lest even the bath-house fall down, because Cerinthus, the enemy of the truth, is within.”[5] It’s a wonderful picture: you imagine John, very sedate, writing and everything; and now you see him running in his bathing suit down the streets of Ephesus shouting, “I had to get out of there! I thought the roof was gonna fall in, ’cause Cerinthus is in there!” Well, who in the world is Cerinthus? Well, he was just a heretic. What did he say? Well, he said that Jesus came about as a natural union; that Jesus was not divine, he was only human; that he was there as the result of the natural generation between Joseph and Mary.

So not a lot has changed in twenty centuries. That’s the point that we need to know in coming to this. People still say today, “Why is it that only the riffraff believe in Jesus?” Read Newsweek magazine, read Time magazine, and what is the inference? The inference is that unbelief is on the side of the intelligent—that intelligent people disbelieve and are unbelievers, and silly people actually believe this stuff. So the challenge remains the same: “Why is it only the riffraff believe and so few who are apparently the leading lights of the community remain in their unbelief? And also, you surely don’t believe—even if you do have some belief—you surely don’t believe that the child in the manger was none other than the Son of God incarnate.”

Now, that’s the challenge that faces us, and I want to give you just three words this morning in looking at this. John, on account of this, does not begin with the genealogies, he does not begin with the birth narratives, but he chooses, à la [The Sound of Music], to “start at the very beginning, [which is] a very good place to start.”[6] And starting at the very beginning, he introduces us in these eighteen verses to Jesus. He does so, if I might put it in reverse order: introducing us in verses 14–18, which is the end of the prologue, to the incarnate Son; introducing us in verses 6–13 to the coming light; and introducing us in the opening five verses, of which we will deal with only two, to the preexistent Word. Who is this Jesus? “He is the incarnate Son,” he says, “he is the light that has come into the world, and he is the preexistent Son.”

Now, I recognize that I could’ve gone to any of these and still stayed within my brief of turning to a text that takes us behind the birth narrative scenes. I’ve chosen to do the hardest part because you’re such a bright group and because you’re able to handle this, and so I trust that you will not let yourselves down.

Many of us have mental pictures of Jesus which are, frankly, very unhelpful. We have pictures of Jesus holding a little lamb in his hands, with blond hair, strikingly wonderfully blue eyes, and sort of strolling around in a blissful environment where harps play, and the streams are flowing, and the bushes are all tranquil and lovely. That’s not a bad picture, as it stands, but it is actually very, very unhelpful in thinking about Jesus, and it’s one of the reasons that we have no physical description of Jesus in the whole of the biblical record. None! We’re only told that he “grew in … stature,”[7] so we know that he progressed in his height and in his girth, but we do not have a physical description of him. And most of our mental pictures of Jesus owe more to artistic creativity than they owe to biblical theology. And every picture of Jesus that we may have, I can guarantee you, will mean that we have a concept of Jesus that is less than what God wants us to have of his Son. No matter how helpful it may be in part and how unharmful it may be ultimately in essence, nevertheless, it will not allow us to conceive of Jesus in the awesome way in which he is introduced to us here in the prologue of the Gospel.

How is he introduced to us? He is introduced to us, first, in terms of his eternity; secondly, in terms of his personality; and thirdly, in terms of his deity.

Christ’s Eternity

First of all, then, the issue of eternity. En arche is the Greek: “in the beginning.” Or, if you like, “before even time began.” “Before even time began was the Word.” No matter how far back we may conceive of the beginning of things. Some of us are scientists, physicists, maybe dabbled in astrophysics and in solid geology, and all of this kind of thing, and we have the capacity to think along lines that lesser mortals like myself are unable to do. It doesn’t take me very long for my head to hurt. Some of you, you can go a lot further before your head begins to hurt. But no matter whether your head hurts at a hundred yards or at a thousand million light years, what John is saying is this: no matter how far back we may conceive of the beginning of time to be, and no matter what model we may have in our minds of how time begins, when you get back there, you will find the incarnate Son of God. You will find Jesus, the preexistent Word.

Athanasius, we all learned in studying theology, gave to us the classic line, “There never was when he was not.”[8] “There never was when he was not.” That’s verse 3, incidentally: “Through him all things were made”—he is the Creator—“[and] without him nothing was made that has been made”—therefore, although he was Creator, he was not created. He was Creator but uncreated. And he is introduced to us here in a very interesting way as “the Word.” The Word. Well, words are important. It is by means of words that we convey thought. It is by means of words that we communicate. It is by means of words that we reveal what’s going on.

And John, in a masterful way, chooses to use a word—which in Greek is the word logos—that was a familiar word in the minds of both Hebrew thinkers and Greek thinkers. And both of them, to one degree another, had the idea of beginnings related to this word. The Jewish mind, of course, he would be assuming that his readers would immediately make the connection between the opening phrase of his Gospel and the opening phrase of Genesis: “In the beginning,” en arche, the very same thing. And he would be reminding them that the Word was the creative agent of God: “God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.”[9] He spoke, and all came into being. The psalmist, in Psalm 33, says, “By the word of the Lord were the heavens made, their starry host by the breath of his mouth.”[10]

What orthodox, biblical Christianity is conveying is this: that the child in the manger at Bethlehem is none other than the Son of God incarnate.

Now, just so we don’t misunderstand this, what orthodox, biblical Christianity is conveying is this: that the child in the manger at Bethlehem is none other than the Son of God incarnate,  because, remember, it is the Son that is incarnate, not God the Father, not God the Holy Spirit that become incarnate; only the Son is incarnate. That’s why it’s good to speak not of God incarnate but to speak of the Son of God incarnate, because it is only the Son that is incarnated. But that this Son, this child in this manger, was responsible for putting the very stars in the sky, including the star which led the wise men from the east to come and worship him. Now, if you can’t sleep at night, and you want something to think about that will help you to get off to sleep again, think about that: that the Christian claim is that the child in the manger, the infant of Mary, the outcast, the stranger, is none other than the Lord of eternity—that there was not whenever he was.

I was reading this week, and I was sharing with some Chinese friends last night, a piece that suggested that the wise men perhaps came from China. Traditionally, everyone says that the wise men from came from Babylon. But it doesn’t say they came from Babylon; it says they came “from the east.”[11] And Babylon is mentioned frequently in the Bible, so why doesn’t it just say, “And the wise men came from Babylon”? Probably ’cause they didn’t come from Babylon! Well then, they came from the east. And how long did it take them to get there? It took them two years to get there! Wouldn’t take them two years; I mean, you’d have to have some bad camel to take two years to get from Babylon to Bethlehem! But if they came from China, it could take them two years. Quite a thought, huh? There in the manger scene?

And they laid down, and they gave their gifts, and they worshiped, and he who was King and Lord of all the nations has the nations, as it were, gathering at his feet. It’s a wonderful thought, it’s a great thought! I mean, you can’t justify it or argue for it, but nor can you argue against it. All we know is they came from the east, and we know that China was east. But the one they came to worship is the one who put the star in the sky that for some reason they began to follow that brought them right there.

My loved ones, let me tell you this: the reason our friends and neighbors largely dispense with Christianity is not because they’ve considered it and found it untrue; it’s because they regard it as completely trivial. Trivial! And one of the reasons they regard it as trivial is because we as believers are bending over backwards to try and accommodate them in their unbelief,  trying to make it appear that, well, we’re not sure we really believe the hard parts, you know. It’s in the hard parts that the good stuff is found! It’s in the hard parts that the essence of the message is conveyed. The whole starry host was created by the breath of his mouth; by the Word the heavens were created.[12]

John employs this word logos because it has a unique capacity to convey God’s ultimate self-disclosure in the person of his Son.

John says, “In the beginning was the Word”—to the Greek mind, the idea of beginnings, conceptually. Logos was regarded in a multivarious and ambiguous fashion, but it was in common parlance; and John, under the direction of the Holy Spirit, begins in this way, he employs this word logos, because, in essence, it has a unique capacity to convey God’s ultimate self-disclosure in the person of his Son.  This Word possesses unique potential to convey God’s ultimate self-disclosure in the person of his Son. We can’t go beyond that; we don’t have time. Eternity.

Christ’s Personality

Secondly, personality: “And the Word was with God.” This Word, this preexistent Word, was distinct from the Father and from the Spirit, not in essence but in person. And in a nineteenth-century commentary, a fellow called Thomas Whitelaw, in a purple sentence, says, “The theme of the evangelist’s discourse was not a metaphysical abstraction, or a poetical personification, but a veritable person.”[13] You say, “That’s a bit of a mouthful for this time on a Sunday morning; we’re hastening towards lunch.” No, but think about what he’s saying: he’s saying, when John presents his material in the Gospel, he’s not talking about things in terms of abstractions. It’s not some abstruse notion. It’s not a metaphysical idea or concept. Nor is he presenting to his readers some kind of “poetical personification”—a dressed-up mythology, if you like. No, what he is actually presenting to his readers is a person—a person which he says he has met; he’s actually seen him, he’s heard him, and he’s touched him. Isn’t that how his first letter begins? You can look at it later. Let me quote it for you. This is how he begins his first letter: “That which was”—en arche—“from the beginning”—same notion—“that which was from the beginning, which [we’ve] heard, which [we’ve] seen with our eyes, which [we’ve] looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life.”[14]

Now, if you’re an unbeliever today and you’re skeptical about these things and you read this, you only have one or two options. One, you can conclude that John was a flat-out liar and that what he’s doing here is he’s writing down a complete fabrication, and he’s saying that he saw and he met and he heard and he touched that which he never saw, heard, or met, or touched. Or I suppose you could say he is a strange person, he’s been caught up in all kinds of mythology, he is deluded, he’s slightly looney. Or you have to say, “I suppose it is possible that he’s telling the truth.”

Now, I have a challenge for you if you’re an unbeliever. My challenge for you is, read the Bible!  You go read the Bible, read the sources. Because, you see, the claim of Christianity is that this book is alive—that although you may not understand this book, this book understands you. And why not read a Gospel? You got about thirteen days left before Christmas; read a Gospel. And as you read the Gospel, say something like this, just as you begin by your fireplace, and maybe not with your wife or anyone else in the room—you’ll feel silly saying this, but you could say it out loud: “Dear God, Begg says I should read the Bible. I’m reading it. If you are God and Jesus is real, then I presume that it is possible for you to make that known to me. And so I ask you to make it known to me, and if you make it known to me, I will believe you, and I will trust in you, and I will follow you for the rest of my life.” That’s my challenge. And many who have taken that challenge have come to say with John, “The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us.”[15]

John’s use of tenses is masterful. He uses the imperfect tense as he’s describing the preexistent location of the Son: he “was with God.” That’s the imperfect tense. When he says, “He became man” or “He has appeared,” he uses the aorist, or the punctiliar, tense, making the point very, very clearly that although it says that he “became” in a moment “flesh,” it never says he became God. His “became flesh” is aorist; it is an instantaneous intervention, decisively in a moment in time. All of the expressions of his preexistent state are in the ongoing imperfect tense: “He was, he was, he was… He was with God, he was with God, he was with God.” And what he always was, he became in a moment in time.

If you want to get excited about something, my dear friends, get excited about this; don’t get excited about whether the crèche is up the Main Street. Whether it’s up the Main Street or it is not, the fact of the matter is that generations are growing up underneath us who’ve got no concept of who Jesus is, why he came, or whether it even matters. Because our Christianity is about how to feel good, how to have purpose, how to have direction, how to keep your marriage together, how to raise your teenage kids. And then we turn on the TV and we say, “But that’s Mormonism! And the Mormons seem to have far better TV adverts than we ever had, and they seem to be doing a far better job, and they’re not drinking all that dreadful Coca-Cola that blows your head up and makes you look fat as a pig, and look how well they’re doing!” So if that’s the issue, let’s all hold hands and get on with the issue. Let’s get on with the battle. But if the issue is here: “The eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you [may also] have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.”[16]

The Son is inclined towards the Father and the Father is inclined towards the Son. In eternity they live in this immense fellowship with one another.

“The Word was with God.” Pros ton Theon. Actually, literally, it means that “the Word was towards God”—towards God. That the Son, if you like, is inclined towards the Father and the Father is inclined towards the Son. That in eternity they live in this immense fellowship with one another. God is sufficient in and of himself.  He doesn’t need us. He is perfectly content within the Trinity. And in that towardness of one another, in a way that we cannot fully grasp, the members of the Trinity determine that the Son will go on this rescue mission, down into time; he who is always will come and appear in a moment in time. And in the doing of that, without giving up any of his Godness, he takes what to that point he does not have—namely, his humanity. And as a result of that, in one realistic way, the towardsness of the Son to the Father is no longer. I mean, ultimately, you have it in the cross, in the great cry of dereliction, where the Son says, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”[17] But even in the incarnation itself, it alters this, doesn’t it? I mean, if you leave home, you can’t be towards your dad. If your son is gone from you, as mine is at the moment, he can’t be towards me. And I love the thought of him being towards me. I love the thought of him being face-to-face with me. And indeed, when he is not there, I think of it with frequency. I hope he does too.

Don’t you think that this was ingrained in the consciousness of Jesus? You see, part of our problem is that we think about biblical theology in abstract terms. It’s partly due to the way it’s taught, which means the finger points to us. But we think of it in terms of mathematical equations: “This was a situation; this needed fixed; therefore, that came—you know, 2πr, πr2, put it back together again.” But in actual fact, the story of Christianity is a flesh-and-blood reality.

And Jesus, by the time he’s approaching the cross—and this is why I suggest to you that this thought was ingrained in him—by the time he’s approaching the cross, in what we refer to as his High Priestly Prayer, do you remember what he says? John 17:5, he says, “And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.”[18] Right? So this is Jesus, now, and he’s talking, and he’s talking about how he existed with the Father “before the world began.” By the time he gets towards the end of his prayer, he says, “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me”—notice—“because you loved me before the creation of the world.”[19] Do you see how awesome this is? “Father, I want it to get back to pros ton Theon. I want it to be back the way it was, where I was towards you in all of eternity. I want to be back face-to-face with you, delighting supremely in my communion with you.”

I can only imagine that when Jesus told the story of the prodigal son, there was a tremendous empathy in his voice as he got to the point where he says, “And there came a day when the son, who had been so disenfranchised”—albeit for a very different context than Jesus’ separation from the Father in time—but the son said, “‘I will arise and I will go to my father, and I will be back towards my father.’ And when he was a great way off, his father saw him, and suddenly they were face-to-face again.”[20] And I can’t but imagine that Jesus, when he put his head on the pillow at night, he said to himself, “You know, Father, when I told them that parable today and I said, you know, about the son seeing his father again, it made me think of how much I want to see you, Father! How much I want to be with you! How much I want to know the glory that I had with you before the world was created. I’m here to do your will, Father. I’m here to save people, Father. I’m here to make you known. All that can be known of God in the person of a man, I am doing for you, Father.”

You see, when you think about the incarnation in those terms, you realize that it is incomprehensible as an expression of love—that it is frankly an expression of infinite condescension. It’s not a mathematical formula. “Down from His glory,” says the old hymn,

Ever living story,
My God and Savior came,
And Jesus was His Name.
[And] born in a manger,
To His own a stranger,
A Man of sorrows, tears and agony.

 
O how I love Him! How I adore Him![21]

Christ’s Deity

Finally, he moves from eternity and personality to an unambiguous statement of his deity in the final phrase of the first verse, “And the Word was God.” “And the Word was God.” He who becomes flesh in verse 14 is he who always was, and in his always-wasness, he always was God.

Now, see if you can stay with me here as I try and land this thing, put the wheels down with limited visibility. This is not theological lumber. This is not Postgraduate Theology for Eggheads. This is the heart of historic Christianity. And that which sets this aside is not Christianity at all.

Let me just give you a quote from Martin Goldsmith. He says,

If … we deny the deity of Christ as the second person of the Trinity, his incarnation, his divine-human person, his redeeming work on the cross, his resurrection and ascension, then … we are no longer talking of the truth revealed in the Bible nor of the faith of the Church throughout Christian history. However we may call our new religious concoction “Christianity,” it actually has little relationship to the Christian faith. We have in fact invented a new religion which has changed or denied every major point in the Christian faith.[22]

And that’s where Christianity is, in large measure, in contemporary America: they have either changed or denied central elements of the Christian faith, and that people who, if you press them, do not believe in the virgin birth, do not believe in the truth of God incarnate, are many of the same people that are concerned about a crèche in the public square. They’re concerned about the wrong thing.  

Now, conversely, look at the beginning again: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God,” and the little wraparound sentence, verse 2, “He was with God in the beginning,” he says. “Let me just say that to you again, so that the heretics will understand and so that the faith will be encouraged.” John begins in this way because he intends that the readers will then read his Gospel in light of his verse—that they will then turn the page, and they will read the words of Jesus, and they will observe the deeds of Jesus as being the very words of God.

Now, turn a page and try it with me. Just turn a page. Go to chapter 2, and what happens? Jesus turns the water into wine. What do our friends say? “You don’t believe in a Jesus who does miracles, do you? You don’t believe that miraculous stuff about water into wine?”

“Yes we do!”

“Oh, you do?”

“Yes.”

“How strange.”

He clears the temple. “Who does Jesus think he is that he can go into orthodox Judaism of the day and start casting people around and rearranging things? Who does he think he is? And what’s that stuff he’s telling Nicodemus? After all, Nicodemus is a religious man, he’s a fine fellow, he’s doing his best. I know he had a few questions for Jesus, but why did Jesus have to immediately start on the ‘must be born again’[23] stuff? That’s the thing I don’t like about you, Begg! It’s okay until you get to that ‘born again’ stuff. All that ‘born again’… Can’t we have a Christianity with a Sermon on the Mount and ‘do your best, and turn the other cheek, and put some money in the tinkling bell for the Salvation Army, and let’s be on with it’?”

No we can’t! Not if we want a Christianity. If we want a concoction, then we can—which is not Christianity at all. But what we’re about at Parkside Church is trying to understand what the Bible actually says and then bowing down beneath what it says, even when it challenges our intellects and overturns our lives. That’s what we’re committed to.

And so you go into the fourth chapter, and he meets a woman at a well, and he says, “Can I have a drink of water?” and eventually he says to her, “You know, I can give you a drink of water; you drink this water, you’ll never need any water again in your life.” And she says, “That sounds fantastic to me.” You say, “Who’s this person that can say, ‘If you drink of me, it will become in you a well of water springing up into eternal life’?”[24]

And this same Jesus, then, is visiting Cana of Galilee, where he’s turned the water into wine, and where a certain royal official has a son that’s lying sick in Capernaum, and when the man heard that Jesus had arrived in Galilee from Judea, he said, “You know, I’d like you to heal my son.” And Jesus said, “That’s fine.”[25] And then in chapter 5, he healed the people at the pool. And then in chapter 6, he sat down and he fed the multitude with just five loaves and two fish. And the people say, “Oh, you don’t believe all that, do you?” Yes, I believe every single piece of it. Why? Because “in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” I mean, what do you expect God to do?

You see, if Jesus was just a good man, then all that we read in the rest of John’s Gospel—indeed, in all the Gospels—is beyond belief, and it’s ultimately blasphemous.  And the reason that John is able to get, if you like, to the high point in John 14:6 where Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, and no one comes to the Father but by me”[26]—the reason that John is able to put that almost as the fulcrum of his Gospel—is because of what he’s begun with in the prologue. He says, “You need to know that this is who Jesus is. He’s the preexistent Word. He’s the light that comes into the world.[27] He’s the incarnate Son.”

Because Jesus is one with the Father and one with the Spirit, he confronts us with the question ‘Well, will you believe in me? Will you receive me?’

And because Jesus is one with the Father and one with the Spirit, he confronts us. He confronts us this morning with the question “Well, will you believe in me? Will you receive me?”  I wonder, have you ever received Jesus? I wonder if you ever really believed in Jesus? We’re gonna talk about that this evening when we come back for the baptisms.

One of my good friends, in commentating on this, gave me a wonderful sermon outline, which I was tempted to use as my own, and then I thought, “No, I better not.” But I’ll give it to you so that those of you who preach can use it some Sunday soon. Bruce Milne says, in light of this, “we are called to worship [Jesus] without cessation,” we are called to “obey him without hesitation,” we are called to “love him without reservation,” and we are called to “serve him without interruption.”[28] C. T. Studd really got it when he said, “If Jesus Christ is God and died for me, then no sacrifice that I could ever make for him could ever be too great.”[29] The inherent logic in that challenges each of us.

Father, I thank you that your Word is fixed in the heavens.[30] I thank you that your Word always accomplishes the purposes that you have established for it. I thank you that I don’t have to argue the case or convince, because I’m neither articulate enough or bright enough to do the job. I thank you that the work of the Holy Spirit is to convict of sin and to convince men of the truth of who Jesus is and why he came. And so I pray that you will bring us to the point where we are prepared to receive the Lord Jesus in childlike trust, and then that we might learn to worship him without ceasing, to obey him without hesitation, to love him without reserve, and to serve him without interruption.

And may the grace of the Lord Jesus and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit rest upon and remain with each one, today and forevermore. Amen.

 


[1] Galatians 4:4 (KJV).

[2] John 20:30 (NIV 1984).

[3] John 20:31 (paraphrased).

[4] John 20:31 (NIV 1984).

[5] Irenaeus, Against Heresies III.3.4, trans. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, ANF 1 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1956), 416.

[6] Oscar Hammerstein II and Richard Rodgers, “Do-Re-Mi” (1965).

[7] Luke 2:52 (NIV 1984).

[8] See, for instance, Athanasius, Four Discourses against the Arians, trans. John Henry Newman, NPNF2 4 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1954).

[9] Genesis 1:3 (NIV 1984; emphasis added).

[10] Psalm 33:6 (NIV 1984).

[11] Matthew 2:1 (NIV 1984).

[12] See Psalm 33:6.

[13] Thomas Whitelaw, The Gospel of St. John: An Exposition Exegetical and Homiletical, for the Use of Clergymen, Students, and Teachers (New York: E. P. Dutton and Company, 1888), 10.

[14] 1 John 1:1 (NIV 1984).

[15] 1 John 1:2 (NIV 1984).

[16] 1 John 1:2–3 (NIV 1984).

[17] Matthew 27:46 (NIV 1984).

[18] John 17:5 (NIV 1984; emphasis added)

[19] John 17:24 (NIV 1984).

[20] Luke 15:17–20 (paraphrased).

[21] William E. Booth-Clibborn, “Down from His Glory” (1921).

[22] Martin Goldsmith, What About Other Faiths? (1989; repr., London: Hodder and Stoughton, 2008), https://books.google.com/books?id=C0Y5AgAAQBAJ.

[23] John 3:7 (paraphrased).

[24] John 4:7–15 (paraphrased).

[25] John 4:46–50 (paraphrased).

[26] John 14:6 (paraphrased).

[27] See John 1:4–5, 9.

[28] Bruce Milne, The Message of John: Here Is Your King!, The Bible Speaks Today (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 1993), 36.

[29] Norman P. Grubb, C. T. Studd: Cricketer and Pioneer (London: Religious Tract Society, 1944), 141. Paraphrased.

[30] See Psalm 119:89.

Copyright © 2020, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.