Jesus: Eternal Lord and Savior
(The Coming Messiah - John 1.1-18)
It’s December! The lights are up, the decorations are up (for some of us anyway): we have officially entered into the holiday season leading up to Christmas. For Christians, the Christmas season is a particular season. There’s Christmas day itself, on which we celebrate the birth of Christ (even if we all know December 25th is not his actual birthday); but then there are also the weeks which precede Christmas, which is a period that in Christianity we call “Advent.” The word “advent” simply means “coming”—that is, the Christmas season is the time in which Christians remember the coming of Christ. So in the weeks leading up to Christmas, we are going to try to look over some important aspects of the biblical narrative so that, when we finally arrive at Luke 2 and the birth of Christ at the end of the month, we’ll be able to better appreciate the immensity of what happened when this baby was born.
So for our first week in this series, let’s set the scene. We are Christians at Église Connexion. And many people who are not Christians find it strange that we are. And one of the reasons people find Christianity difficult to stomach is because we base our entire lives and everything we believe on the life and work of one man, who lived 2,000 years ago. And it’s even more surprising to notice that we do this with no innovation. Unlike, say, yoga enthusiasts who’ve taken principles from Buddhism and Hinduism and shaped them into a whole new thing, Christians do not add to or expand on what Jesus started. We build our entire lives on Jesus’s work and ministry as they are described to us in the Bible. We will find new ways to explain what he did, but our conviction is that we must never add to message itself—this message has not changed since Jesus’s lifetime. Why is this strange? Simply because Jesus lived so long ago; from a historical perspective, he was far removed from our modern, Western culture, so presumably it should be erroneous to base our lives in the modern, Western world entirely on that foundation. And yet, this is precisely what we do.
So if you are a Christian, I hope you can see why non-Christians find this difficult to stomach. I hope you can see why they might want to accept some of what Jesus said (many people accept that Jesus was a good moral teacher), but refuse to accept that the work of Jesus as recorded in Scripture should be the basis of our lives in 21st-century Paris. If you’re an unbeliever here today, we’re very happy you’re here, and please be reassured that we understand the difficulty. But on the flipside, I also hope you see (or will come to see) why we as Christians insist that this is precisely what we must do.
It is so that we might see this that we are going to begin our series in the first chapter of John’s gospel. John’s gospel tells us about the life of Jesus Christ (as do the other three synoptic gospels). But John does not begin with Jesus’s birth; he doesn’t begin with Jesus’s parents; he doesn’t even begin with Jesus’s grandparents. John goes even further back than Matthew does to begin his gospel: John begins before the world was ever created, to show us that Jesus Christ is not just a man who lived and ministered 2,000 years ago, but rather already lived an eternity before the world ever existed. So this is where we’re going today: we’re going to try to show from Scripture that building our lives on this man who lived 2,000 years ago is not erroneous, because he is not ancient, but eternal—he existed before the world began; he was Lord before the world began; and he was Savior before the world began.
1) Jesus has always existed.
Look at v. 1-2: In the beginning was the Word, 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. Really quickly, we need to define this word “Word.” John is writing to Jews and to Gentiles, so he frequently takes the time to explain or translate common Hebrew words or ideas into Greek, sometimes even adopting their language to get his point across more easily. In Greek philosophy the “Word” (or logos in Greek) referred to the elemental principle by which everything exists. So John takes this well-known idea and uses it for his own purposes—and he can do this because it actually fits quite well. In the Old Testament, which John frequently quotes in his gospel, the word of God is connected to God’s power in creation (Gen. 1.3ff., Ps. 33.6), in revelation (Jer. 1.4, 1s. 9.8, Ez. 33.7, Am. 3.1-8), and in the deliverance of his people (Ps. 107.20, Is. 55.11). Later in v. 14, John will tell us, 14 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. Then in v. 17 he tells us explicitly who he’s talking about, who this “Word” is: 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.
So there are a couple of things to notice here. First of all, we have to see that John is telling his Greek readers that this elemental force they’ve always believed in as the source of all things is not a force at all, but a person—Jesus Christ. John’s not encouraging his readers to worship the wind, or the sun, or an unnamed mystical energy; he’s telling them that in speaking about the source of all things, they’ve only got it half right. There is a source of all things, but he is a person, and he has a name—Jesus Christ.
Secondly, he wants us to see that Jesus, although he was a man, was not merely a man, but actually God himself. V. 1: the Word was with God, and the Word was God. And in v. 18: 18 No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known. And in v. 14: And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only SON from the Father… Even if you don’t understand these admittedly confusing sentences, you can see the correlations—“No one has ever seen GOD; the only GOD, the Word, the Son who is at the Father’s side, HE has made him known.” So there is a God, the Father, and there is also God, the Word, the Son of God, who is at the Father’s side.
Now this causes some problems for us, doesn’t it? How can this “Word,” Jesus, be both God and with God? In v. 14, John refers to Jesus as the Son of the Father—how can a man be the Son of God and God, all at once? Well, we have to recognize that when the Bible says Jesus is the Son of God, it doesn’t mean he is God’s son like Jack is my son. Jack came from me (and his mom, yes, but for the sake of the image, let’s just stick with me for now); he came from me, but he is not me. But with the God the Father and God the Son, it’s different. The Bible affirms that when we speak of God, we can truthfully say that the Father is not the Son and the Son is not the Father; but we can also truthfully say that the Father is God, and the Son is God. And this is not like saying someone is French or American or British; when we say that the Father is God and the Son is God, we mean to say they are one and the same God. How can this be? We have absolutely no idea! And that’s precisely the point.
This week I saw a trailer for a film that’s coming out next year, based on a book called The Shack, in which a man meets the three persons of God in a cabin in the woods. I remember when this book came out; there were a lot of people who said after reading the book, “Now, finally, I understand God.” And I’m sorry, but that’s completely wrong—even if there are some things in the book that aren’t too bad, I suppose, the very premise of the book goes against the way the Bible talks about God. The Bible never attempts to explain the complexity of the three persons of God because God is by definition unexplainable. But what it says about God, it says truly.
And it says that although Jesus Christ is a man—a man that the Jewish and Greek readers of John’s gospel would have heard of and known about—he is not a man like any other. When we speak about Jesus Christ, we have to allow that he falls into an entirely different category of being—a being who can be both distinct from his Father, and yet the same as his Father. The Father is not the Son and the Son is not the Father; and yet they are both one God.
Thirdly, he wants us to see that Jesus, who is both God and man, did not start existing at the time of his birth in Bethlehem, but has always existed (v. 1): In the beginning was the Word. Can you hear the echo there? Even if you’re not a Christian you’ve probably heard the very first verse of the Bible, Genesis 1.1, which reads, In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. So when John uses this same language to refer to Jesus, and then explicitly says that All things were made through him, John is telling us that not only is Jesus not just a man, but God; not only has he always existed; but the God who created all things is in fact this man Jesus Christ. Jesus is not an afterthought; when John refers to Jesus as “the Son of God” in chapter 3, he doesn’t mean to say that first there was God, and then Jesus came afterward. No—in the beginning, Jesus already existed, and he was God. This was John’s point for his original readers.
But we, coming at this text from the 21st century, get even more out of it. And I say that because if we are convinced of this simple fact—that Jesus Christ is God himself, and has always existed, and is in fact our Creator—then the fact that we base our lives on what he did 2,000 years ago in the Middle East is not a problem. We’re not basing our lives on the teachings of a mere human being, but on the grand, eternal plan of our eternal Creator himself. If you’ve been here any length of time you’ve heard me say before that no one is better suited to tell us how we have been created, and how we are designed to function as human beings, than the One who created us. In basing our lives on what Jesus Christ did 2,000 years ago, we are simply following the instructions set for us by our Creator; the Creator has given us the instruction manual for humanity, and all we’re doing is following the instructions given to us by the One who knows us better than we know ourselves, because he has always existed and he created us.
Jesus is God; he is our Creator; he has always existed. But John goes further—not only has Jesus always been; he has always been Lord.
2) Jesus has always been Lord.
It’s not enough to know that Jesus existed before the world began. It’s not enough to know he is God and has always been God. And it not enough, because God came into the world. If the eternal God came into the world as a human being, we need to know how he did it—that is, we need to know in what capacity he came into the world. Did he come into the world as an observer? As a tyrant? John tells us that it’s neither one nor the other: in the person of Jesus Christ, God came into the world as Lord.
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. 12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he GAVE THE RIGHT to become children of God. This implies two very important things. Firstly, it implies that none of us, on our own, have the right to become children of God. This is something none of us are good enough to be. And we know this because the only one who ever had the right to be called the Son of God is God himself—Jesus Christ.
Secondly, it implies that Jesus Christ has the authority to grant the right to become children of God, despite the fact that we don’t deserve it. In France, the president has the right to grant amnesty to certain people who have been condemned for a crime—his amnesty effectively erases the person’s condemnation from the record. This privilege is given to the president because he is the president—only he has the authority to grant amnesty. This is essentially the right John is attributing to Jesus, but on a much larger scale. Jesus grants to all who receive him, who believe in his name, the right to become children of God. Now, we’ll come back to this in a moment, but first we need to see that as the president can grant amnesty because he is the president, Jesus can give people the right to become children of God because he is Lord—he has the authority to give people this opportunity.
And he has always had this authority. Although Jesus became a human being 2,000 years ago, he didn’t suddenly gain the status as Lord; he didn’t receive his authority at that time. He has always been Lord—in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word WAS God.
This can be confusing, because in John’s gospel, on several occasions Jesus says that God has granted him authority because he is his Son (cf. Jn 5.27). But this shouldn’t cause us to believe that Jesus didn’t have this authority before he became a man. Theologians have a term called “progressive revelation,” which speaks of the way God has chosen to reveal himself over time. It basically means that God has always been the same; Father, Son and Spirit have always lived in communion with one another as God; he has never changed.
And yet, God didn’t reveal everything about himself all at once; he did it progressively, revealing more and more of himself over the course of human history. Which makes total sense—it’s the same way for all of us, isn’t it? I’ve been married to Loanne nearly fourteen years; I know much more about her now than I did fourteen years ago. But she’s not a different person—what she went through before I met her hasn’t changed; I’ve just learned about her progressively. Same thing with God—what we know about him now has always been true of him, but he chose not to show us everything all at once. And so one of the ways in which he chose reveal himself more fully was in the person of Jesus Christ. Although Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever (Hebrews 13.8), God chose to show us the radiance of his glory and the perfect image of his nature through the incarnation (Hebrews 1.3)—when Jesus became a man, he showed humanity what God was like.
All that to say that Jesus’s authority to give us the right to become children of God was not a new thing; he always had this authority because he has always been Lord. In 1 Corinthians 8.6, the apostle Paul says that there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and ONE LORD, Jesus Christ—and isn’t it interesting what he does next?—through whom are all things and through whom we exist. In speaking of Christ’s lordship, he refers to his role as Creator. The Creator always has authority over his creation. Jesus Christ is Lord, and he has always been Lord. As John (the author of this gospel) quotes John the Baptist in v. 15: John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’ ” Although Jesus came after John, Jesus was Lord long before John ever came on the scene.
But if you’ve spent any time in the church you know that that sentence “Jesus Christ is Lord” is usually followed by a second title, which our passage in John also affirms: not only has Jesus always been Lord; he has always been Savior.
3) Jesus has always been Savior.
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. 14 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. 15 (John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’ ”) 16 For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.
It’s wonderful that John does not stop by saying that Jesus gives people the right to become children of God; he goes further. And that’s vitally important, because it helps us see that Jesus does not give people the right to become children of God in precisely the same way the president grants amnesty. When the president grants amnesty, both the crime and the punishment are simply cancelled—the slate is wiped clean; the crime is swept under the rug.
But this is not how Jesus saves us. Jesus saves us in the fullness of God’s glory; he comes full of grace AND truth. Grace allows us to not be punished for our rebellion against God; but truth tells us we all deserve punishment, because we have all sinned; and it also tells us that God is just. So if God is just, he must punish sin. Do you see the problem? God cannot simply grant amnesty, because if he did, he wouldn’t be just. Sin must be punished; it cannot be simply swept under the rug.
Jesus Christ is the solution to that problem: he became flesh and dwelt among us, living the perfect life we should have lived, taking all of our sins on himself and dying the death we all deserved. Christ effectively absorbed the wrath that God had against us, so that we wouldn’t have to endure it. Now, obviously John doesn’t give us all of this information in this passage, but he is setting us up for it—he is getting us ready to see the immensity of Christ’s sacrifice for us, so that when we finally reach it later on in the gospel, we might realize, Wait—this was the plan all along!
And that realization is exactly right: this was the plan all along. Paul writes this amazing sentence to Timothy in 2 Timothy 1.9: [God] saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus BEFORE THE AGES BEGAN… What he’s saying, essentially, and what John is saying in this passage, is that Jesus is not a band-aid. He is not a last-minute solution tacked on to solve the problem of sin. Rather, the Son of God becoming a man and living a perfect life and taking on our sins and dying in our place and giving us his righteousness… This was the plan all along. The purpose of Christ’s coming was established before the ages began; and the grace that we have received in Christ was given to us before the ages began.
But people simply weren’t aware of it before; they didn’t see it coming, or at least they didn’t see it coming in this way. As we said before, God revealed himself progressively. Imagine being a Jew 2,000 years ago. The Jews had received the Law of Moses, the revelation of God’s character to them; and for centuries they had been trying their hardest to obey God’s Law. Most of them found themselves unable to do so; and those who kept the Law scrupulously ended up doing so with prideful hearts which kept the letter of the Law, but completely missed the point! Anyone who saw clearly would see that the Law revealed God’s perfect character, but no one was able to meet that standard! It’s a rather desperate situation that would lead to either denial on one side (like the Pharisees), or to desperation on the other (like everyone else).
So imagine hearing someone say, “God did reveal himself through the Law, yes—but that’s not the end of the story. Not only did he reveal his perfect character, his perfect standard of righteousness…but he also prepared the way for that Law to be fulfilled. We can’t do it, and God knows that; the only one who could fulfill it is God himself. So get this: God has come. He has fulfilled the Law for you. He has done what you couldn’t do, he has become a man, he lived a perfectly righteous life, he died in your place, and he is granting to you all the benefits of his righteousness.” To which you ask, “How has he done this?” The answer? 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. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.
Jesus is God—he has always been the all-powerful, all-perfect God. Jesus is Lord—he has always been the Lord who deserves your allegiance. And Jesus is Savior—from the beginning of time it was planned for the Son of God to live your life and to die your death, so that you might live.
So the call of God to us, as we begin to contemplate the coming of Christ this season, is this: we must respond to Jesus. We must respond to Jesus as God—Jesus is no mere teacher or miracle worker; he is God himself, and deserves to be worshiped as God himself. We must respond to Jesus as Lord—Jesus is our Creator, and thus has the right to demand our allegiance. And we must respond to Jesus as Savior—what kind of a Lord must he be, to pay the penalty for our rebellion, and grant us everything we needed to obey him as Lord? Is it hard to obey a Lord like that? Of course not—if Jesus was only Lord, he could conceivably be a tyrant; but by revealing himself to us as our Savior, he has shown us that he is not a tyrant; he is not a hard slavedriver; he is gracious and good and loving and only demands of us those things which will be the best for us.
God calls me, and he calls you, saying, Worship Jesus as God. Acknowledge his power; be amazed at his eternity. Obey Jesus as Lord—give him the obedience that he deserves, in every area of your life. And run to Jesus as Savior—do you not see that if you are a sinner, if you have rebelled against God in your life, then the Savior is the only safe place for you to go? How crazy is it for someone in danger to run away from the one refuge he has? Worship him as God; obey him as Lord; run to him as Savior.