Today we start the Gospel of John, and we’re going to work our way through this entire gospel over the next 10-11 months. We’ll take a break here and there, but why do I think we should work our way through an entire gospel? Well, I have two main goals for us in doing this: 1) that our affection and love for Jesus would grow, as we jump into his life and ministry and see it first-hand, and 2) that our desire for others to believe in Jesus would also grow. I’ve shared with you my personal desires to be far more devoted to prayer and especially evangelism. This week, I didn’t get to share the gospel, and I don’t think I had too many opportunities even to speak with those that do not know Jesus. And though I don’t think that that’s necessarily wrong, I will say that I don’t think I was as consistent on asking God to give me a desire, and asking God to give me opportunities to share. I have a feeling those go hand and hand.
So, just accountability with you, I’m hoping this week is different in that I pray that God gives me both a strong desire and opportunities to share. One or two of you text me this week about opportunities you had both just to talk with people about spiritual things, and even get to share the gospel. Thank you for sharing that with me, and please keep doing that. You’ll encourage me, and I want to encourage you in this pursuit. And that certainly will continue as we see the Disciple-Maker first-hand in the gospel of John.
Seeing Jesus himself make disciples I’m praying will compel us, also, to make disciples. In fact, according to Spurgeon, in his book Soul Winner, this task of evangelizing and making disciples is the “chief business of the Christian minister.” So those are our goals. To grow in love and affection for Jesus, and to desire for others to believe in Jesus. This goes right along with John’s own purpose for the gospel of John.
John himself gives his purpose for writing in chapter 20, which I invite you to turn there with me. He lays out, in only a verse or 2, his goal for the book! John 20, verses 30 and 31-
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
John’s goal in writing: that we may believein Jesus. (20:30-31)
That’s it! Seems pretty simple! But, before we jump into the beginning of the gospel, which gives us a picture of this Jesus we’re to believe in, we have to be clear on what it actually means to believe.
HOW TO BELIEVE
The way we use the word “believe” today is quite different than John’s meaning for the word “believe.” To “believe” nowadays is merely to acknowledge something, or hold something to be true. That is not all that this word means here in John. You can very well acknowledge that Jesus is God and even that Jesus died for your sins, and yet not be saved, not have life. The devil himself knows that Jesus died for the sins of the world. But, the Devil certainly has not believed, as in trusted in, Jesus’ death and resurrection for salvation. The Greek word for “believe” is pisteuo, and this word means that you put your faith IN something, or trust IN someone.
Believing in Jesus, truly, is trusting your entire life INTO Christ.That’s HOW we believe. It’s very loosely like trusting in a roller coaster. You can know very well in your mind that The Titan roller coaster in Arlington, which was my favorite roller coaster when we lived near Dallas—you can know very well that that roller coaster is safe, and that you would not die on it. But, there’s a big difference between knowing that, and actually getting on the roller coaster, trusting it with your life.
To believe in Jesus is to entrust him with your entire life, it’s literally to trust that what he has done, especially in his death and resurrection, is what brings you life and redemption, and saves you from God’s wrath to come. In fact, even more telling of what this belief truly is, is the fact that in the New Testament faith and repentanceare used interchangeably at times. John the Baptist called people to repent! Peter, on the day of Pentecost, when they straight-up asked him, “What shall we do to be saved?” He answered, “Repent, and be baptized!”
And yet elsewhere we see “Believe” as the go-to explanation for how to be saved. Paul told the Philippian jailer, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved.” That’s Acts 16:31. John 3:16 itself, “whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” Those two don’t mention repentance. What’s going on? Which is it? Do we believe to be saved? Or do we repent? I think it’s not all that difficult: both faith and repentance are essential to salvation. I don’t think we can deny that. We know we are saved by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8), but repentance also is explicitly essential to salvation!
2 Peter 3:9- “The Lord…is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” Didn’t say faith, it said repentance. Acts 11:18- “When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, “So then, even to Gentiles God has granted repentance that leads to life.” Clearly, repentance is part of this. So, what’s the relationship. And does one come first? I think the answer to this is much simpler than we might think. Here it is:
Faith and repentance are two sides of the same coin.
This comes, really, from Jesus himself, in Mk 1:14-15- “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believethe gospel.” Repentance and faith are not the same thing, but they are two sides of the same coin. You cannot believe with repenting, and you cannot truly repent without believing. This is why they can be used interchangeably at times, because each of them implies the other. True faith, or belief, which is what we’ve been talking about, implies repentance. True repentance implies faith. Yet again, from Paul in Acts 20:21- “I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus.”
Again, I think we over-complicate things sometimes, and maybe that’s because faith and repentance are so often misunderstood. Not only is belief so often misunderstood, but repentance is also deeply misunderstood. Repentance is not fixing your life up so that you can come to God. It’s coming to God with a heart that is changing from yourself, to Jesus. Ultimately, guess what? Both faith and repentance, are gifts from God. God grants this to us. Which is why I think the question of which comes first is moot. They’re simultaneous, and they’re both given by God.
I know that was a lot of discussion on that, but it’s incredibly important, knowing the truly heart of belief and faith, because that’s the whole purpose John wrote this gospel. So, we have to start there, and we will come back to that again in this series. So, now we know what it is to believe, truly. Now, the question is, what, or more appropriately who, are we to believe in? Who is this Jesus?
Let’s look at chapter 1, verses 1-3, the very beginning of John’s gospel. And I’m going to skip around a little bit in these verses. Hopefully, you read them beforehand, and if not: try and do that in the coming weeks. I always put the passage in Saturday’s text that goes out. And if you’re not on our texting service, the instructions are in your bulletin. So, chapter 1, versese 1-3:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.
WHAT TO BELIEVE Who is Jesus?
First,Jesus is God(1-3, 18)
We know these first few verses are talking about Jesus. How? Down in vs 14: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” Obviously, this is Jesus. So what does it mean that Jesus is the “Word”? It means, according to Kostenberger, Jesus is the “divine self-revelation.” In Jesus, we see God’s greatest revelation of Himself, a picture of the nature and character of God. In fact, verse 18 makes that exact point! “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.” Jesus is the best and only true picture of God? Why? Because he is, in fact, God!
Verse 1: “In the beginning was the Word.” In other words, when God created the heavens and the earth, which means everything, he did not create Jesus. Jesus was already there in the beginning. He was with God, and he was God. Right? “The Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.” This is just an awesome picture of part of the trinity. Jesus is distinct from God, how else could he have been “with” him? And yet he also was and is God himself. Somehow, within the trinity, the Father, the Son, and the Spirit are distinct, and yet one. That’s part of God’s character that we will never be able to truly understand perhaps until we leave this life. If any of you have totally figured that out, please come talk to me!
Jesus is God not only in that he has always existed, but also in that he created everything! Verse 3 makes that as clear as can be: “All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that has been made.” I love the way John puts this here, it’s very intentional. He doesn’t just use broad language—“Jesus created everything.” He’s more meticulous than that! He says, there is not a single thing that exists that Jesus did not create! How amazing is that!? From the largest galaxy to the smallest quark and lepton, Jesus Himself created it! Jesus is God.
Now, starting in verse 4, John moves from this “Word” language into using other language for Jesus, so before we get there, I want us to look first at the only other verses in this text that calls Jesus specifically the “Word.” Verse 14-15
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John bore witness about him, and cried out, ‘This is he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’”)
The second answer to this question, WHAT TO BELIEVE, specifically about Jesus:
- Jesus is Man (vs. 14-15).
We’re going to get to whyhe became a man in just a minute, but first I think it’s important to be clear on what it means that Jesus became a MAN, and fullyman. “The Word became flesh.” This one phrase, especially, can help us a LOT with avoiding some misunderstandings about Jesus becoming a man.
First, THE WORD became flesh. It’s not that God adopted Jesus as his son when he saw that he was living a particularly holy life. Some believe that! That’s not it! What’s the problem with that? First, the entire New Testament, but also, specifically, this exact phrase. “The Wordbecame flesh.” Who became flesh? Not some good boy, a holy man. No, “the Word”, the one who was with God in the beginning and who is God according to the first few verses we read.
Second, The Word BECAMEflesh. Not that he merely took up residence in a man’s body, like taking possession of it, which some today believe. The problem with that? “The Word becameflesh.” Doesn’t say that the Word took over a fleshly body. No, The Word became flesh. The word is “ginomai”, means he was born into flesh, he became flesh.
Lastly, The Word became FLESH. Some think he took 50% God and 50% man and somehow mixed it up into something new! Some believe that Jesus just looked like a man, he took up the appearance of a man, but he wasn’t actually a physical man. The problem? “The Word became flesh.” It doesn’t say he became a ghost or some new mixture, or made himself look like a man. It says, He became flesh.
Now, I know this may seem like we’re being picky, but this is the heart of our faith. We don’t just believein the popular sense nowadays, which is like a belief in belief itself. Right? “Believe! It doesn’t matter what you believe, as long as you BELIEVE!” No, saving faith in Jesus involves understanding what belief and faith really is, and also, who Jesus really is! That’s why I’m not sure we can be too careful, here, especially which how much mistaken teaching there is out there. So, Jesus is God. Jesus is man. And this third big truth about who Jesus is. Who is this Word, this divine self-revelation? 3rdly:
Jesus is the Christ(6-11).
“Christ” is not Jesus’ last name, it’s a title that means the exact same thing as Messiah, which has its roots in the Old Testament. In fact, later in this chapter, verse 41, Andrew tells his brother Simon, “’We have found the Messiah’ (which means Christ).” John himself writes that. The Jews of this day were awaiting a Messiah, a Messiah that had been foretold throughout the prophets and even since the very beginning!
From the very beginning of mankind, since the fall, God has made promises to his people! In particular, he has promised a Messiah, the Christ, as early as Genesis 3:15. This Messiah is the culmination and the ultimate fulfillment of all of God’s promises: He will fix everything that’s broken, he will decisively end oppression, he has given his life that we may be reconciled to God, and he will reign as King forever. In other words, Christ as Messiah is all-encompassing! This is why John writes this with such compelling language here. It’s a magnificent truth that John wants us to BANK on, to trust in, so he summarizes Christ’s story: Let’s read it, verses 6-11:
6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. 8 He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light. 9 The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.
This is the Messiah! This is the Christ! The one who was long foretold not only in Old Testament times, but even in John’s day, spoken of by John the Baptist! This Christ, this Messiah is the LIGHT, meaning that he came not only to reveal the very nature of God, and in that sense turning on the light, but also, he is the only one to give any true and dependable guidance in the whole world! He was this light to the whole world, even though the very world he created did not know him, and his very own people, the Jews, did not receive him. Even so, he was and is the light. He is the light, the Messiah, the Christ. That’s what John wants us to know, and more than John, it’s what God wants us to believe and trust.
John’s goal in this gospel is for us to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing we may have life in his name. This is where we see the reason to believe. Why believe?
WHY BELIEVE (4-5, 12-13, 16-17).
In Jesus, we are given LIFE.
Verse 4 is the first time “life” is brought up, but it very clearly and very quickly becomes a major theme for the entire gospel of John. Verses 1-5 are almost like a synopsis of these first 18 verses. It’s a shorter, summarized version of what he’s about to present, not only in the rest of these verses, but in the rest of the whole gospel. He writes that “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Then he writes that this Word, Jesus, created every single thing. Then, in verses 4 & 5, he writes this:
“In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
Something I think worth noting here is the different tenses used in verse 5. John’s writing years after Christ’s life, and death, and resurrection. He says first, “The light shines in the darkness.” That’s present tense. The light, Jesus, still shines! And then he writes, “and the darkness has not overcome it!” That’s past tense! Even though darkness still abounds, John speaks as if the darkness tried to overcome the light but failed, past tense, this is done! What is John referring to here?
I’m convinced he’s referring to the resurrection of Jesus. Verses 1-5, especially if they’re a little taste of what we’re about to see played out before us in this whole book—there might be nothing more appropriate than finishing this little taste, this synopsis, with the resurrection of Jesus.
Why? Because the reason we are given LIFE in Christ, is because Jesus Christ has defeated death. We are now counted as those who have been born not only physically, but have now been born again, born of God. Verses 12-13: “To all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”
Throughout this book we will see again and again that believing in Jesus gives us LIFE. We saw in verse 4, and just now in verse 13. Soon:
- John 3:16- “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal ”
- John 5:24- “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal LIFE and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to LIFE.”
- John 14:6- “I am the way and the truth and the LIFE. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
- John 20:31- “These words are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”
- John 11:25- “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.”
Then Jesus asks at the end of this one, “Do you believe this?” That’s the question we must ask. Do we believe this?
If you just want to sum up what Jesus is, the WHO of our faith: He is light in the midst of darkness, purity in the midst of impurity, good in the midst of evil, right in the midst of wrong, beauty in the midst of ugliness, and ultimately, he is LIFE in the midst of DEATH! Do you trust Jesus with your life?! And do you trust him ALONE for life? He came and bore our sin, the very wrath of God on our behalf. Our sin and shame goes on the Spotless Lamb of God, and his holiness and righteousness is placed upon us. Because of what he has done in his death and in his resurrection, we have been brought back to God.
But unless you truly BELIEVE in Jesus, not just acknowledge or hold to the truth that Jesus is all these things, but truly TRUST him alone with your very life, unless you do that, you may never even know that you’re actually dead. He is not just enough, in him there is an over-abundance. That’s verses 16 & 17, the only ones we haven’t looked at yet:
“For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”
The best way to understand that is that the life we are given in Christ, it is over-abundantly enough because of two things: Christ is fully God, and because of that we are fully complete in him. What the law, ultimately, could not do, Christ did! Let me say that again: Christ is fully God, and we are fully complete in Him. I get that not only from this passage we’ve looked at today, but also directly from Colossians 2:9-10- “For in him, the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and in him you have been made complete.” As Jesus asked Martha, “Do you believe this?” Have you trusted in Jesus, and been made complete?
And have you truly believed in Jesus? I remember going to what is called “Ripley’s Believe It Or Not Odditorium” in San Antonio when I was in high school. We’d go to San Antonio often for band competitions and performances, and I went to this museum of sorts several times while we were there. The thing that always stuck out to me were the wax figures. They made these wax figures of human beings that looked unbelievably real. I mean, they did everything they could possibly do to make these things look real. And they did, certainly, in many ways look real. But you know the one thing they were missing? The only thing that really mattered! They were missing life. They were not alive.
We live in a culture where it is normal to be Christian. Obviously, our culture is changing, and it’s becoming less expected that you’re a Christian, especially in some areas. But, generally speaking, it’s still normal to be a Christian, and even at times assumed. Because of this, we’ve come to a place where biblical Christianity, where saving faith, has been replaced with being a good person: “Jesus died for us so we could live better lives.”
And so, we do everything we can, in our power, to look alive. We act as good as we can, at least in the ways that we think we’re supposed to. We attend church, we raise our children not to be criminals, we vote, we give back to society, at least a little bit. Everything on the outside looks real! Looks alive! It even looks Godly. But if this is the sum total of your so-called “faith”, you are actually dead. Even if you acknowledge Jesus as the Son of God who died for your sins. You can hold that to be true all you want, and still be dead. The question is: have you entrusted him with your life?! Have you banked on Christ alone to save you from your sin and from the wrath of God? Have you trusted in Jesus to reconcile you into a right relationship with God Almighty? Because you can make yourself look alive all you want, and it may fool us, you may even fool yourself, but if you haven’t been given life by believing in Jesus the Christ, the Son of God: you are not alive.
If you haven’t, listen: do it today. That’s why John wrote this. If you don’t know if you’ve believed in Jesus, listen: ask someone today to help you figure this out. And if you have believed in Jesus, listen: Treasure Him. Be reminded of the only sensible and natural response to true belief in Jesus, which is affection and worship.