A sermon by Rev Richard Keith on John 1:1-2, 14-18 on Sunday 2 February 2020
Other sermons in this Apostles’ Creed series: I Believe in God: https://corowapc.org/i-believe-in-god/, The Father Almighty: https://corowapc.org/the-father-almighty/, Creator of Heaven and Earth: https://corowapc.org/creator-of-heaven-and-earth/
Christians believe in many things. They believe in God. They believe that he is their heavenly Father. And they believe that he created all things. But Christian faith, if it is anything, is faith in Jesus Christ. Today, we continue looking at the Apostles’ Creed and we come to the fourth clause. I believe in Jesus Christ. We believe in him because he is the Word of God made flesh who reveals the invisible God in visible form.
People say, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never harm me.” We teach it to our children to help them to stand up to bullies. To teach them that words are powerless, that they can ignore the taunts and the nasty names and get on with their lives.
The only problem is that it isn’t true. Words are powerful both for evil and for good. Sticks and stones leaves wounds that will heal in a week. But words can leave scars that take months to heal. Nigger. Stupid. Spastic. Words hurt.
But words can also give life. Words can encourage. Words can give hope. Well done. Good girl. I don’t know how you do it. Words can create new possibilities. “I now pronounce you man and wife.” Words can bring justice and restore order. “We find the defendant guilty.” Words can reveal the speaker’s inner thought. They can teach, instruct and pass on knowledge. And words can connect people who have never ever met. By letter. By phone. By email. And by text.
The disciples had had a once in history opportunity of seeing Jesus in action. While the crowds came and went, the disciples followed him wherever he went. They saw what he did. They heard what he said. They heard his claims of a unique relationship with God. They saw the things he did that no one else could do. And after he had left them, they tried to capture just who Jesus really was for the sake of those like us who would never see or touch him.
The disciple John called him the Word. And he began his Gospel, his life of Jesus, with these words,
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
As I said, words create new possibilities. They reveal the speaker’s inner thoughts. And for God to speak, to reveal his will is to bring it into being and to make it happen.
This is how God created in the very beginning. He had a plan. He knew what he wanted. He uttered it in speech and he made it real. Or as the book of Genesis puts it, “And God said.” And God said, “Let there be light. And there was light.” And God said, “Let there be a dome in the sky.” And God said, “Let the dry land appear.” And God said, “Let us make mankind in our image.”
Of course with the power of God concentrated like this in a single utterance, bringing into existence all created matter in the universe, coming into being like a shout from his mouth, it would have made a huge noise. Like a loud pop or maybe a big bang. This is how God, the creator of all things, brought it all into existence. Turning nothing into something simply by expressing his will. As John says in his Gospel
All things were created through him and without him nothing was made that has been made.
But what is truly remarkable about John’s message is that this creative Word that made all things, this principle of reason and order by which human science is able to observe the world and make sense of it, became real in the life of Jesus of Nazareth. John said in chapter 1 verse 14,
The Word became flesh and dwelt 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.
What this means is that the wisdom and power and purpose that we glimpse in the forces of nature, in the wonder of the stars in the night sky, in the delicate balance of life in a rainforest, in the orderliness of an ant colony or of the rings of Saturn, in the marvel of human speech and communication, by which we sense that there might be a God, a mind which made our mind to see and understand all these things, these vague hints to the existence and nature of God become clear in the life and teaching of Jesus Christ. He is the Word of God made flesh. Like a letter, or a phone call, or an email or a text, he connects us with God whom we have never seen or met. In Jesus we see God at work. He is the Word and we can read him like a book, revealing to us, showing us, describing to us what the invisible God is like.
You can’t see God any more than the bird can see the air it flies in or a fish can see the water it swims in. And yet his power and wisdom are at work in every direction we look. But in Jesus God comes to us in visible, audible, tangible form.
This metaphor of a Word made flesh, simply puts in picture language what Jesus said about himself.
I and the Father are one.
Before Abraham was born I already existed.
No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God.
My teaching is not my own. It comes from him who sent me.
I am the resurrection and the life.
I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me.
If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.
I am in the Father and the Father is in me. The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather it is the Father living in me who is doing his work.
Father, I have revealed you to those you gave me. All I have is yours and all you have is mine. May they be one, just as we are one. I want those you have given me to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.
The religious leaders of his day were offended by the extravagance of his claims. At his trial they asked him, “Are you the Christ, the son of God?”
And Jesus said, “Yes, and you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Almighty and coming on the clouds of heaven.”
It is nothing less than the consistent witness of the Scriptures. In Hebrews chapter 1 we read,
In these last days God has spoken to us by his Son, through whom he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being.
In Revelation chapter 1 the risen Jesus says in a vision,
I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last. I am the living One. I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever.
And in Colossians chapter 1 the apostle Paul wrote,
He is the image of the invisible God. For by him all things were created. All things were created by him and for him. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to make peace through his blood, shed on the cross.
This is not just some abstract Christian doctrine that we can shed in these more enlightened times like a snake sheds its skin. What this is teaching us is that when God seems remote, when we think that God does not care, when the idea of God seems absurd, when we come to doubt God’s love and power, Jesus brings him home to us. What Michalangelo tried to do on the ceiling of the Sistene Chapel, painting God in inks and oils, Jesus does in flesh and blood.
When Jesus touches the leper, we see God. When Jesus welcomes the children, we see God. When Jesus calms the storm, we see God. When Jesus turns over the tables of the moneychangers in the temple, we see God. When Jesus gives sight to the blind, we see God. When Jesus is arrested in the garden and tied up and led away, we see God. When Jesus wears the purple robe and the crown of thorns and is beaten and clubbed by the soldiers, when Jesus is mocked and ridiculed, when Jesus is hung up on the cross, when Jesus gives up his Spirit, we see God. Not a God who is an idea, a theory, a conclusion drawn from hints and clues in the natural world around us. But a God who lives and loves and walks and talks, who hungered and thirsted, who slept and laughed and cried, who suffered and died and gave himself for us that we might give ourselves for him. In Jesus the invisible God is made visible, audible, tangible. In Jesus we find a God worth believing in.
These extraordinary claims of Jesus mean that he is either a liar, a lunatic, or Lord. Jesus is not just a good man, a great moral teacher. No good man would have said what he said about himself if they were not true. If Jesus claimed to be the Son of God, the one who reveals God, the one who is God and worthy of love and devotion and worship, if Jesus made these claims and they were not true, he was not a good man and his death on the cross did the world a favour. If he knew they weren’t true, he is a liar. If he thought they were true, but was wrong, he is a lunatic. But if his claims are true, if we see in his actions the love of God if we hear in his words the voice of God, if we see in his cross the suffering of God with us, if we see in his resurrection the proof of the love and power of God, then Jesus is nothing less than the Lord. The Lord who says, “Come follow me.” The Lord who made himself our Servant so that we would serve each other.
Let me finish by giving the last words to John in chapter 1 of his Gospel:
The law was given through Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God, but God the one and only, the Son who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.