The prologue to the Gospel of John provides a glimpse into John's claims about who Jesus is, and what that means for those who would trust in him.
Join us as we explore what his statements about Jesus mean for us as people of faith living long after the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and how they can help us find hope in the world that we live in today.
John 1: 1-18
January 4, 2015
Rev. Leanne Masters
Southern Heights Presbyterian Church
I’ve always loved this prologue to the Gospel of John. There’s just something incredibly beautiful and poetic about it, as it draws a wonderful word picture about Jesus and his place in the world and in creation and in relationship with God.
Of course, that is the whole point of this prologue. It’s exactly what the author of John intends to do for us...summarize for us his understanding of Jesus that he will flesh out in the narrative that follows.
He starts with those very first words, In the Beginning, intentionally taking us all the way back to creation, to the breath of God that first stirred the watery chaos and the words that God spoke that brought creation to life. And as he does so, John not only puts Jesus at the beginning with God, but he simply sets up the divinity of Jesus right from the start...Which is good, because all throughout the Gospel, Jesus speaks in riddles and puzzles of sorts ,giving hints as to his divine identity without ever coming out and saying it. John’s statements here clears it up from the beginning for the reader of the Gospel...not only does John do this, but he also makes the centrality of Christ clear, stating that none of any of this could be possible without him.
John also takes the time to make sure that we know that John the Baptizer is not the Messiah, emphasizing that several times in this brief statement. As a sidenote, I think that this is somewhat indicative that there may have still been followers of John out there at the time of the writing of this Gospel, or at least those who may have argued that since Jesus was baptized by John, Jesus couldn’t have been greater than John (something that is also echoed by the fact that this idea is refuted in all of the Gospel accounts of John, quoting him as saying things like he is not fit to untie the thong of Jesus’ sandal, and so on).
Finally, in his prologue, John primes the reader for the central conflict that will follow: that, although Jesus is the Word of God made flesh sent to and among the very children of God, the children of God would reject him and that the powers of darkness in the world would seek to extinguish him.
But don’t worry, he says...even though the darkness threatened to overcome and destroy the light that had come into the world, even though the forces and agents of darkness sought to stop and to silence him, the darkness did not overcome that light, and it continues to shine in the darkness, giving truth and grace upon grace to all of those who claim him.
In a way, this sums up the whole of the Gospel message for the reader...if they get no further than this, they have gotten the essentials of the story...but I think that John is hopeful that they’ll be intrigued enough by how he has presented it to read on, to learn more about that grace and truth that Jesus brings, and to understand how he could overcome the darkness that was in the world.
This last piece may have been enough to draw in readers, because, even living a century or so after the happenings described in the book, they would have known and understood, all too well, the darkness that was in the world. They would have wanted to know how it was that the light of Jesus could still be shining in the darkness that was in the world and what that could mean to them as they faced that darkness...because it is no accident that, although the idea that the darkness tried (past tense) to overcome the light, that the light shines (present tense) in the darkness.
You see, John has chosen his words very carefully to indicate that the light of Christ shines on...that Christ continues to fight against the darkness, and Christ continues to overcome and shine brightly.
That’s the promise of the Gospel of John: that all of this is not just something that happened, a long time ago, it is something that was still happening at the time of the writing of the Gospel, and it is still happening, even now. The light of Christ still shines in the darkness, full of grace and truth, and all those who trust in him are claimed as God’s own, and have the ability to live into that light and all that it means.
Which is good news for us, living in our world today. Because, just as the original readers of the Gospel of John, just as the people living at the time of Christ, we are living in a world that is filled with darkness.
Hatred, greed, fear, war, violence, and the thirst for power and glory attack us from without and urge us to attack and control others as well...the fear and worry that gnaw away at our hearts and souls, urge us to give up hope and give in to resignation that the world is simply just going to always be this way...
All around us, forces and agents of the creeping, insidious darkness are at work, trying to envelope and surround us and destroy us from within and without. They all threaten to overwhelm us and oppress us and destroy us.
But here we are promised that the light of Christ continues to shine in the midst of all of that. That God’s grace and truth continues to shine in the midst of all of that. That that light chases away the darkness and illumines a better way of being, a better way of living...and gives us the ability to shine the light, that light of love and hope and grace and truth for others so that they may also be freed from the oppression of the darkness.
As Paul said:
Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:35, 37-39, NRSV)
Yes, sisters and brothers, darkness is in this world. There is a lot of horrible and scary and terrifying and worrisome things in this world. And yet, we are promised here, in these simple, beautiful, joy-filled poetic words at the beginning of the Gospel of John that the light of Christ shines in the darkness for us, and the darkness did not, will not, and can not overcome it. The light of Christ will continue to shine brightly in the darkness of this world until the light overcomes the darkness, and the darkness is chased away and shall be no more. In that day, as God’s kingdom comes and we and the world are recreated into what God intends us to be, the darkness shall be no more and we live in the joy and light and love of God through Christ, with Christ and in Christ.