Audio Only (with the Old Testament Scripture Reading)
A Passage for the Reformation
As we read this prologue to John’s gospel on this Reformation Sunday, we might be led to think “Christmas”. Perhaps we hear Christmas bells as we hear the words “the word became flesh and dwelt among us” (verse 14).
Although, I cannot help to let this passage remind me of John Calvin—the famous reformer who made his ministerial home in Geneva Switzerland. For the most part, Calvin was a contemporary of Luther. As Luther was nearing the end of his life and ministry in Germany, this young and aspiring French theologian started to pave the way for a significant movement in Geneva Switzerland. It’s Calvin who this passage in John reminds me of most—especially as consider the thought that verse 5 introduces. Look at verse 5—"The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” Do you hear the light of the Reformation shining through this passage?
Remember the world Luther, Calvin, and the Reformers sought to Reform. Under the influence and control of the Roman Catholic church, Europe had completely strayed from Christ and his word of grace. The church did not teach the Bible—in fact, the priests themselves reportedly had little to no understanding of Scriptures at all. The scriptures were locked up behind the church’s many abuses—not to mention the Latin which the people did not know. No doubt, the gospel of God’s saving grace through faith was not proclaimed or even known. There was no freedom or hope offered in Christ—instead, the church kept the people burdened with a system of indulgences, penance, and political maneuverings. The people were distant from God. They didn’t know God. They couldn’t know God, as the church had so neglected the Scriptures wherein God reveals himself.
What kind of world might come out of this kind of environment? It was just a world of oppression, but immorality, and darkness. John Piper mentions that when Calvin arrived in Geneva, there was a law that you could only have one mistress—just one. The law will permit that (no more—because, you know, that’d just be too much for Geneva).
In comes John Calvin to Geneva. What does he bring with him? He brings the majestic, and most precious word of God. He brings the living and active Scriptures, as they testify to God’s salvation offered by grace alone, in Christ alone, through faith alone. He brings the light and life of God’s revelation.
This is God’s revelation, we’re talking about—the light of revelation shining life into the darkness, folks. John Piper reminds us that during his time in Geneva, Calvin would preach the Scriptures twice every Sunday, and twice every day on alternating weeks. That’s a lot of preaching—and presumably, people came to listen! He had an audience, with all that preaching! People were hungry—starving—to hear God’s revelation. Piper goes on to say–
The word of God and the precious gospel of grace had been so locked up inside Latin and inside the clerical priesthood that when it began to break out it shaped Calvin’s whole perspective on life and ministry and everything. So he developed this motto called post tenebris lux—after darkness, light.
After darkness, light. So simple, yet so profound. What darkness was Calvin referring to, there? He was referring to the darkness which comes over a people when God’s word is locked up—unattended to, unknown, un-appreciated, for so many centuries. That’s darkness, to not hear or tend to God’s word of revelation and truth. Yet when he speaks his word—even through a man like Calvin—LIGHT!
The Story of God’s Revelation: Set-Up, Problem, Resolution
In this morning’s passage in John, that’s what we are discovering. This prologue isn’t just a Christmas passage—about the Word, Jesus, becoming flesh. This is about the Word—the revelation of God coming to us in our darkness with unmatchable light and life to all who would receive him. This is the Reformation, it is John’s gospel, it is our hope—post tenebris, lux (after darkness, light). That’s God’s story of our hope. It’s the story of our bible, is it not? This is a story. God’s revelation is a story—not some abstract theological construction by smart theologians about “God’s self-disclosure”. This is a story.
As we unpack this prologue this morning, we’re going to see the story of God’s revelation. Now, in any story, you always have three steps. You have the set-up (where we meet the characters and see a moment of peace and happiness). Then, what happens? The problem. There’s always a problem to be fixed in every good story. Then, of course, the resolution. That’s the premise of any good story, and I think we see it at work even here, in John’s prologue.
So this morning, we’ll see (1) the set-up of God’s revelation, (2) the problem pushing back against God’s revelation, and (3) the resolution to God’s revelation.
The Story of God’s Revelation: “The Set-Up”
So, let’s consider how John sets us up as we consider this story of God’s revelation. Look at verse 1 with me—
John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
Where does the story of God’s revelation begin? “In the beginning”—that’s where this all begins. We’re talking about the beginning of all beginnings, the creation of the world in Genesis 1. “In the beginning was the Word”—yes, indeed, Genesis 1:1 opens our Bibles with “in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth”. John is making that tie for us. That’s what we’re talking about—literally, the story of creation. The story of the world. This is a big story! And by the way, for those of you who are wondering—if John is making any passing, strategic reference about some Greek philosophical “word” or logos, which some of you may be aware of, then so be it. John is being smart and catching the eye of some Greek philosophers. Yet, at the heart of this passage is John appealing to God’s word “in the beginning”, where it all began. He’s not citing a Greek philosopher. He’s citing the Bible—Genesis 1:1.
Now, I trust you all know the story. What did God do in the beginning, when he made the world and all that is in it? He spoke his word into existence, according to the sheer power of his word. So, “In the beginning was the Word”, John says. This isn’t shocking news, folks. Every Jew would agree with this first, opening statement. God spoke his word—“Let there be light!”, and there was light. In the beginning, no doubt, was the Word—God’s Word. As Psalm 33:6 so aptly reminds us, “By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, and by the breath of his mouth all their host”.
Now to be clear, God wasn’t simply creating with his word. He was revealing himself. This is, indeed, a story of God’s revelation. He spoke and created in such a way to, sort of, externalize his power and his glory—to show it off and put it on display. “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork”, Psalm 19:1. Do you want to know God’s power and majesty? Look at his creation, and you’ll have a taste of it. He created that out of nothing, with his Word. You could think of Paul’s statement in Romans 1:20, “his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived”. Do you hear that? The invisible, eternal power of God and his divine nature is perceived—it’s made visible, Paul says, “ever since the creation of the world, [even] in the things that have been made.”
So, in the beginning was the Word—and this is the Word that created the world, upholds the world; and it reveals God’s glory and majesty. We’re setting up the story of God’s revelation.
It’s also worth noting that God’s word in the Old Testament is said to accomplish his purposes. I don’t know if there’s a better passage to illustrate this from the Old Testament than Isaiah 55:10–11. You can turn there if you’d like to see it yourself. In Isaiah 55, we are reminded that God doesn’t simply create with his word as a creator. More so, as a king, he governs with his word. Isn’t that how Kings do their work, and execute change? They speak decrees, declare promises, reason with their minds and command with their mouths. “I promise that my first day in office, I will issue a decree and put up a wall to keep our boarders safe”—sound familiar? That’s how politicians talk, it’s how they do their job. So, as God is creator and revealer through his word, he is also king over every nation and kingdom, much less every blade of grass that sprouts on the earth. So again, Isaiah 55:10–11—
For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
God sends his word out, and so he accomplishes his purposes. That’s what John is calling to mind for us, here in John 1:1. This is about God’s revelation—and even more so, it’s about his kingdom and purposes on earth. The story of God’s revelation is building, isn’t it? We’re beginning to understand a bit more of what john means when he said, “in the beginning was the word”—that word, folks.
Yet, John isn’t done with his sentence, is he? He’s going to throw a little twist in for us. Keep reading. “In the beginning was the Word”—keep reading, “and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.”
So, John is talking about a specific Word, here, isn’t he? He’s talking about a person—he’s talking about Jesus. Even as God creates, sustains, governs, and accomplishes his purposes through his Word—so John is telling us that he does so through his Son, Jesus. “The Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God”. This isn’t some abstract word of power that comes out of God’s mouth. We’re talking about (1) a person—even Jesus, (2) who is God, (3) who was with God at creation, and (4) who is himself the Word who accomplishes all God’s purposes in creation, even as “all things were made through him”.
This is turning into quite a story, at the beginning of John’s gospel. It’s drawing us back to God’s creation in Genesis 1, and telling us that it’s all about Jesus. God created the world through Jesus. He sustains the world through Jesus. He reveals his light and glory and life through his eternally begotten Son, Jesus. Verse 4 goes so far to say that “in him was life, and the life was the light of men”. So, we’re talking about life and light, here. These are distinct yet inseparable categories for John. As the Father and the Son have life and fellowship and joy together, so the Son offers the same to his people. As the Father and Son have perfect light—perfectly discerning truth and beauty and righteousness in God, so the Son offers light to his people, so we might see the truth and enjoy it, to walk in it by faith. This is the revelation—the life and the light—which the Word-made-flesh came to reveal. Yet, if you neglect Jesus—if you neglect God’s word—then darkness, death. Lights out. Does any of this sound like Genesis 1–3? This is a story of God’s glory—his word, his life, his light which was all originally and fully offered to us at creation. It—or rather, he—has come to shine the glory of his life and light upon us, if we would receive him.
The Story of God’s Revelation: The Problem
That’s the set-up, folks. That glory and light and life has been revealed, to be followed and enjoyed. Now, just as in any good story, the set-up is followed by the problem. What’s the problem at work, here? Look at verses 9–10,
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.
What a misery! Jesus entered the world, bearing the torch of God’s light, and nobody cared to look! They didn’t know him—he might as well have been among strangers, even among the people he had made! They were in “darkness”, to use the language of verse 5.
Think of how intensely practical this is, folks—to reject such a revelation. If you were to ask anyone in Amsterdam this afternoon (perhaps you take a stroll through Wal-Mart or Target), “is there order and purpose and hope in the world today? Can you shed some light on all this for me?”—what do you think most people would say? Granted, we are living in a political time wherein a record number of people are unhappy with our governmental leaders—but I think you’ll hear people say “these are dark, difficult, uncertain times”. There’s so much darkness and uncertainty in the world, isn’t there?—and, we can do all we can to curb that darkness and bring some temporary relief, some order, but life is always a hard-pressed labor of toil and strife. Death, uncertainty, and despair is always around the corner—even if you do everything right. Karma doesn’t even make sense!
Now, let’s say you ask the same person at Wal-Mart, “is your life mostly characterized by a constant flow of light and blessing, or is it characterized by a certain darkness and strife”? With that question, you’ll get a host of answer, won’t you? Yet what I find most—especially talking with people who are distant from Christ—is people who strive to be optimistic, yet nonetheless realistic about the world around them. Even when you’re in darkness—you have to find some way to remain optimistic, lest you fall into despair. Yet you have to be realistic, lest you get blindsided by more darkness. In the same breath, people will say with a sense of realism, “it’s harsh world out there”—then out of optimism, they’ll say “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”—it has to turn out for my good, somehow, I hope.
What does this passage say to you, Christian? It says verse 4 to you—“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”.
The story of God’s revelation—his self-disclosure of his life and light—is infinitely personal, and practical. Without God’s revelation, we’re left in our own darkness to discern these things, from our own darkness and blindness. That’s a problem. There is darkness, even such that tries to overcome the light.
I remind you that Paul goes so far to remind us that outside of Christ, we aren’t simply in darkness, but we are subdued and ruled by darkness. We belong to the devil, not to Christ, if Christ doesn’t shine his light of truth and life into our souls. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:4,
the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
Isn’t’ sobering? The devil is ever at work to make blind people in their darkness even blinder, lest they behold God’s glory to desire it by faith. Sadly, in our natural condition, we go with it. The devil doesn’t have to do much to blind us—we don’t scream and kick against him. In just a few months from now, we’ll see in John 3:19 that this literally is the judgment God has handed us over to—he’s handed us over to our darkness. John 3:19, “and this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil”. That’s judgment—that God would leave you to your dark desires, and your hatred of his light.
This is the story of God’s revelation—it’s a story of imponderable glory, and even more imponderable rebellion. The word—the person of God’s Son, through whom and for whom the world was made, in whom was light and life for all mankind—that Word became flesh, and we desired him not. The story continues, does it not? As the church—the body of Christ—goes out to proclaim the Word of Christ, do the people recognize it? Do they recognize it as the only hope for life and meaning and glory—or, do they keep not recognize it? Perhaps they love the darkness, the blindness, too much. I do pray this is none of you.
The Story of God’s Revelation: The Solution (After Darkness, Light)
We’ve seen the set-up, and we’ve seen the problem. What’s the solution? What’s the solution to this story of God’s revelation—God’s Word, as it were?
The answer is the same answer which the Reformers turned to 500 years ago, when they turned to the very Word of God, of which we are speaking. They turned to God’s word. Post tenebris, lux—after darkness, light. That’s the answer. It’s always the answer. Verse 5 of our passage is possibly my favorite in this whole prologue—" 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” That’s present tense, progressive. It’s not talking about a one-time deal, there. That’s not how God’s light works! It shines, always, and forever, into darkness—and when shone, the darkness cannot overcome it. God’s word will not turn void.
I mentioned how John Piper reminds us of how Calvin preached twice every Sunday, and twice every day on alternating weeks. That’s an incredible ministry that is radically relying upon God’s revelation, there. To really hammer the point, Piper goes on to say that Calvin “devoted 200 sermons to the book of Deuteronomy, 159 sermons to the book of Job, 353 sermons to the book of Isaiah, 86 sermons to the Corinthian epistles, and so on (you get the idea).”
Why would Calvin do that, if he did not understand the story. After darkness… light. God is speaking. He never stopped speaking. He has always been merciful to reveal himself to his people, that they might no longer walk in darkness (but in his light and life). In fact, if you jump ahead to verse 14, you’ll see how John takes pains to bring this to our minds.
Look at verse 14. There, we read “and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us”. Many of you might already know this, but this could more aptly be translated “the word tabernacled among us”. Jesus—the Word of God’s revelation—tabernacled among us, much like God tabernacled among the Jews in the tent of meeting. John is connecting the glory of Jesus in the flesh to the glory of God that descended from heaven in a pillar of fire upon the tabernacle which Israel set up in the Old Testament. So, John is intentionally calling Moses and the Exodus to mind, here. That’s why verse 16 continues to speak this way, with reference to Moses. Verse 16 —
For from [Jesus’s] fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.
John is reminding us, here, that God has always been in the business of mercifully shining his light and life into the darkness, so that we might not despair and be lost to the darkness. God’s revelation through the law and glory cloud at Sinai was one grace. It was one light of revelation, to guide and bless his people unto life. Yet Jesus came with a much greater grace. Grace “upon grace”, or grace “instead of grace” (as some translate it). Something better is here.
Think of the glory that accompanied Moses’s ministry, especially from the time of the Exodus through the wilderness wanderings. It really was a glory—a grace—folks. The people of Israel were in darkness—slaves of a harsh Egyptian pharaoh, and without any word from their God (that I’m aware of) for some 400 years. Then, at the most opportune time, God showed up to Moses in a burning bush. As light visibly shone from the bush, God revealed himself through his Word: “I AM who I AM”, he says. That is to say, “I exist on my own terms, I am truth and light, and I act according to my own purposes for my own glory.” God is mercifully revealing himself to this sojourning, distressed Moses.
Then, what did God say? He spoke out of compassion, with a promise—"I have observed you and what has been done to you in Egypt, and I promise that I will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt to… a land flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 3:16–17).
After darkness, light. Light shines in the darkness, even the light of God’s name, and God’s promise. “I AM who I AM”—and, “I promise that I will bring you up”. Is that not light and life—the very promises of God, rooted in the character of his name? That’s how God works, folks. He shines his light and life as he reveals himself and his promises. Take shelter under such precious words in Scripture.
Of course, later on in Moses’s story, we find what John was referring to in his gospel when he said that the word “tabernacled” among us. When the people were brought out of Egypt, God revealed himself to them with such mighty displays of power that it made the people tremble with fear. When Moses came down from the mountain, after meeting with God, his face shown so brightly after beholding God’s glory that the people had to put a vail over his face because of the blinding brightness. This was an astonishing time in history, for God’s glory to be so revealed.
Yet here’s the question that I’ve always found intriguing. Have you ever thought it strange that it’s after these things that Moses finally says, “show me your glory” (chapter 33)? That’s how that story goes, folks. Moses had beheld all this glory from God’s presence—so that his face shone. Only then does he say in Exodus 33:18, “please show me your glory”.
Had Moses not seen enough? Moses almost sounds like a man completely entranced, doesn’t he? He’s so fixated and awe-struck by what he has seen, he presses in to inquire for more. In these moments, Moses understood the meaning of life—to behold and enjoy God in his presence. As the Psalmist (16:11) said,
You make known to me the path of life, in your presence there is fullness of joy, at your right hand re pleasures forevermore.
This is all a testimony to what we’ve been talking about, folks. When the veil of darkness is pulled away from a man’s heart, to behold God in his glory, the path of life is revealed. Fullness of joy is experienced. Pleasures forevermore are promised. You can’t get enough of this.
Now, what did God do, in response to Moses’s request to see God’s glory? We read the story, together. When God revealed his glory to Moses, what did he do? He spoke. That’s what he did. He spoke his Word—his name, his character, his faithfulness. Again, Exodus 34:6—7,
6 The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, 7 keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”
That’s the glory, folks, that God so revealed. That’s life and light. (Remember, he said this after Israel sinned.) He’s merciful and gracious, slow to anger. He abounds in steadfast love and faithfulness—he always keeps his promises. When he speaks his promise, you can consider it done, for he has all power and capabilities at his disposal to accomplish what he purposes. And here, God is revealing that behind all the fire and shining glory, there is a merciful and forgiving God to be loved; a just God to be feared; and a faithful God whose promises can be trusted.
That’s what these introductory verses in John’s gospel are about—only, we’ve received “grace upon grace”. We have something far better than what even Moses ever received. Verse 9 even says “the true light… was coming into the world”. The true light. Jesus is the true light. Isn’t that interesting? Was the light that Moses and Israel beheld false? “Ah, the Old Testament is a façade, a trick!” No, we’re talking about substance, fulfillment, here. In Christ, the glory and revelation in the Old Testament personally came to us and put on flesh, so that we might behold God’s most perfect revelation of himself, and watch God accomplish all the purposes he had set into place through his Word. It’s all here, folks. “All the promises of God find their yes in him”—true light, the true substance of God’s light and life has appeared, brining unthinkable glory and fulfillment with him. That’s the solution to the story of God’s revelation.
Two Words of God’s Revelation to Leave You With
Now, I want to leave you all with two words of revelation—two words of hope—that this passage expressly gives us. Those two words are fullness, and family. That’s the true light and life—the true revelation—we have in Christ, in comparison with the Old Testament saints. Fullness, and family.
In verses 16–17, we see the fullness I’m referring to. “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.”
There’s a lot we could see in these two verses, but I simply want you to see the closeness, the fullness, the completeness, that’s being referred to. The law was given through Moses—almost to say, it was given while God stayed distant. Yet, grace and truth came through Jesus. Do you hear the difference in the verbs, there? What’s better—for God to give you a law to follow, or for God to personally come to you, and meet you? There’s intimacy, here. That’s God’s fullness, in Christ.
Then, of course, we might see the obvious difference between the law that was given, and grace and truth that came. The law could be referring to the moral law that condemns us before God, making us at his mercy for forgiveness. Or, “the law” could be referring to everything Moses wrote. Either way, Jesus came with God’s grace and truth—or, his faithfulness. God was true to his word—he promised forgiveness and salvation through a Savior, and so he delivered according to his gracious and true word. The fullness of Christ accomplished this for us—his righteousness, his obedience to the Father, his love and sacrifice—all the fullness, here, now.
But we don’t merely see that God has revealed his fullness, but his family. Verses 11–13,
John 1:11 He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. 12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
This is why Jesus came—to give us God’s fullness, and to give us God’s family. We talked about our adoption last week, so we aren’t going to belabor the point this morning. Although this is the greatest privilege in the gospel—that we aren’t simply forgiven, but even made his children. That is where the story of god’s revelation is going: the glorified, redeemed, loved, protected children of God through Christ. It’s a right to be received by faith alone, by grace alone, in Christ alone.
This is the story of God’s revelation, folks. God is speaking, he is governing, he is accomplishing his purposes through his Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus is alive and reigning, ruling through his Spirit. So, we have hope. The light is, indeed, shining into darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. After darkness… light. Do not reject it. Receive it, and so walk by faith in the light and life of Christ.