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Let’s pray. Worthy is the lamb, worthy is the lamb who was slain to receive glory and majesty and power and dominion. Oh, Christ, you are all we have. And some of us come this morning feeling like we have much, but in truth you’re all that will last, all that will save. Others come this morning feeling as if we have nothing, but in truth we are, together with you, the heir of all things. You are all we have, Lord Jesus, and we praise God that you are more than enough. Come now, dwell among us through the preaching of your word. In your name we pray. Amen.
Our reading this morning comes from the Gospel according to John Chapter 1. I invite you to turn there in your Bibles. If you don’t have a Bible, you can use the pew Bibles in front of you. It’s on page 886. And if you don’t own a Bible, and you need a Bible, I’m just going to make a decree that you can go and take one of those Bibles, because we would love for you to have a Bible.
Follow along as I read John 1, verses 6 through 13. “There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to bear witness about the light that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light. The true light which gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own and his own people did not receive him. But 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.”
We see in this text two very different responses to Jesus. And whether you have been going to church your whole life or it’s the first time you’ve ever set foot in a church, it’s still true. There are at the end of the day only two responses we can make to Jesus. And so I want you to think about that, whether you are 8 or 80 or somewhere in between. I want you to think about your response to Jesus. When all is said and done, there are only two responses: We can receive him or we can reject him.
Verse 9 says the true light which gives light to everyone has come into the world. You may stumble on that phrase, “which gives light to everyone.” That is not a reference to the light of internal illumination as if everyone on the face of the planet for all time will know the truth. We know that’s not the case. Verse 5 tells us that there’s darkness. Verse 10 tells us that some reject this light. So it’s not speaking of internal illumination as if everyone everywhere is enlightened by the coming of Christ. Verse 9 is not internal illumination but is rather about objective revelation. It means the light of the world has been made visible. Someone flipped on the switch in your dark house and it will never be the same place again. The lights are on; the question is how do you respond. Do you face the light? Do you walk in the light? Or do you hide under the covers? Do you hit the snooze? Do you smash the alarm clock? Do you run into the closet and find a comfortable place in the darkness? There are at the end only two choices. To walk in the light as he is in the light, or to remain in darkness.
Now it is the stark nature of those choices that will offend many people. And as Christians, we have no interest in offending people. What we do have a great interest in, however, is in telling people the good news of Jesus Christ. Some of which always has been and always will be offensive. And this is one of those things. That there is darkness or light. We would be happy to think we are all in the light or that there is some sort of middle ground. Can I just take shade? I’ll just take, maybe, a night light. I don’t need to follow the blazing light of glory, but I don’t want to be in darkness. But Bible doesn’t give us that sort of middle ground. It presents us with Jesus and says there is a choice. True light has come into the world. Will you receive it? Will you reject it?
Which is one of the reasons, you’ve heard me say before, that to be in a gospel preaching church on a Sunday morning is the place of greatest privilege and, in a sense, it is a place of great danger. It’s a great privilege because you get to hear, if the preacher is faithfully doing his job, you get to hear the only message that can save you from your sins. It is a message that there are still over 2 billion people in the world that have no access to, and you get to hear it. It’s a great privilege.
But it also means you are in a position of danger because you will, if the preacher is doing his job, be presented with the light of the gospel of the glory of God in the face of Christ. And when you have that light put before you, you have to do something with it. How will you respond?
There is no question that light has come. There is no real question that Jesus walked on this earth. People may debate who he was, they may debate what he accomplished, but no serious student of history denies that there was a man, Jesus of Nazareth, who walked among us. He is mentioned in Roman sources. Roman historian Suetonius writing in the early part of the second century refers to an act of Emperor Claudius around 49 A.D. He says “since the Jews constantly made disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he expelled them from Rome,” and that’s a reference to Christ, whom he calls Chrestus. Or Tacitus, another historian in his book The Annals of History says “consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflected the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilate.” Even the Roman historian Tacitus said there was a man they called Christus. He was a great instigator. And now we have these people called the Christians and they are the abomination. We hate the Christians.
Jesus is mentioned in Jewish sources, non-Christian sources. He’s mentioned in the Babylonian, in the Palestinian Talmud. Josephus, the celebrated Jewish historian in the first century, makes passing mention of “James, the brother of Jesus who was called the Christ.”
Even Bart Ehrman, a name some of you will know, famous Chapel Hill professor who has written a number of books trying to debunk traditional Christian beliefs says, here’s a quote from Bart Ehrman: “The reality is that whatever else you may think about Jesus, he certainly did exist.” That’s from one of his recent books called Did Jesus Exist? The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth. So even a radical skeptic like Bart Ehrman who is interested in overturning all sorts of traditional doctrine says everyone who has really looked into this understands that this man existed. He lived!
What will you do with it? Or to put it another way—the true light which gives light to everyone was coming into the world.
The Gospel According to John tells us in verse 6: “There was a man whose name was John.” Now this is not John the author of this book; he refers to himself in the third person later as the beloved disciple, but this is John who we know as John the Baptist. He came as a witness, a prophet, a testifier. He was sent from God just as Jesus was sent from God. We are introduced in these opening verses to two men sent from God, John and Jesus. But John was only a pointer, Jesus was the point. John was a speaker of true words, but he was not the eternal Word. John is a flashlight, Jesus is the light of the world. It is important to remember that in this great story of salvation history, God gives you a flashlight but you and I are not the light. So we don’t look for the spotlights on us, sort of awkward to say that as they literally are on me right now, but other than that we don’t look for the spotlights on us. We have a flashlight to show forth the light of the world and to point people to this Jesus. The light shines in the darkness.
Now what? There are only two responses. If you reject Jesus, it is a more serious offense than you think. And if you receive Jesus, it is more of a miracle than you can imagine. Those are our two points this morning: Rejection or reception.
Let’s start with the first of those responses. We see it in verses 10 and 11. So point number one: If you reject Jesus, it is a more serious offense than you think. The seriousness of the rejection is underscored by these three phrases in verses 10 and 11. So first you see this phrase: “He was in the world.” Remember who we’re talking about. We are talking about the Word, the One who was there in the beginning. The One who never had a time when he was not because he existed before there was time, the One who is timeless and eternal. We are talking about the One who was with God and the one who was God and is God, he was in the world. He was in the world.
Think how excited you would be if you heard some, you know, famous person was moving into your neighborhood. We heard a rumor, I don’t know it it’s substantiated or not, but we heard that in a neighborhood adjacent to ours when we had bought our house in Mint Hill, that one of the Carolina Panthers had a house. Now, I’m just telling you, I walked through and I don’t see a house that looks like a Carolina Panther would live in it, okay, so don’t judge, but we heard that rumor. Don’t know if it’s true. Calvin Benjamin, if you’re here this morning, you can, you know, determine whether or not, that’s what we heard. But my kids believed it was true and that was a help as we came, they were certainly excited. Now we’ve since heard that maybe he moved on somewhere else, you know, tens of millions of dollars will get you something else, but it was pretty exciting to think. And as we walked around the neighborhood and we saw a house that had a Panther flag, we thought he must be there. There he is. Maybe we’ll just wait, we’ll just stay ’til he comes out. Because it’s pretty exciting to think that a member of the Panthers might be in your neighborhood! He was there…Maybe.
Verse 10. “He was in the world.” The Word, think about this, the Word existed before there was a world. And now he’s in that world. That should be a big deal. That seems like someone you should pay attention to, the person who existed before the world that you now live in even came into being, and now he’s in it? But that’s not all. You see the second phrase: “He was in the world, the world was made through him.” If ever there was someone who deserved adoration, adulation, it was the Son of God. I don’t mean to be cheeky about it, but you think he could walk up to someone on the street and say with a straight face “I made that.” And you might say “you made what?” “This.” “Well, what this?” “What you’re standing on.” “You mean my sandals?” “No, the planet. I made it. It was made through me.” He could have looked anyone in the eye and said “You exist because of me. The whole universe holds together by the word of my power. You have life and breath because of me. Your atoms and sinews hold together because of me.” He’s in the world and the world was made through him and yet we read at the end of verse 10: “The world did not know him.”
Like a builder of a house, returning to his home to find the place years later run down and the current owners disinterested in whose knocking at the door, and he tries to explain “but I made this house, I built this house, I’m giving you to live in this house.” “We don’t care. Go away.”
Like George Washington being rejected by the Continental Army. Like mom working all day to make lunches, do laundry, clean the house, and the kids just say “why do I have to do everything?” Oh, be careful. “Mom, why don’t I ever get what I deserve?” “Well, hmmm, we can arrange that.” They don’t have eyes to see what this mother is doing for them all day. They don’t have eyes to know that the one who is there in their midst.
I’ll tell you a story. In 1996 I was flying back home to Grand Rapids, where I’m from. I had been away in Colorado for the summer—I was doing some work with a professor, I was in college at the time. And as we got closer to home, to landing at the airport, there was a kind of buzz going around the plane that there was someone well-known on board, someone of some note, something important had happened. And I don’t remember being fully aware of it until we landed, but once I walked off the plane I could see there were news cameras, and there were big spotlights, and there were people with microphones, clearly someone important had been on the plane, and it wasn’t me. I was 19 years old at the time and there was another 19-year-old kid on the plane, also from Grand Rapids. He had just won a bronze medal at the Atlanta Olympics and he was from Grand Rapids and he was flying home, and that teenager who was on the plane with me, wasn’t sitting next to him, has gone on to make about a billion dollars since then. You may have heard of him last week, his name is Floyd Mayweather. So he’s from Grand Rapids, whether you like Floyd Mayweather, care about boxing, I’m not encouraging anyone to go out and do boxing. My parents growing up told me there are two things that you can’t be when you grow up: You can’t box or be a magician. I’m not sure why those two things came in, but they just, she had seen David Copperfield floating across the Grand Canyon and said don’t do that and don’t make a living punching people, so…. He was a 19-year-old kid, who knew who he was. He had won a bronze medal, that was pretty impressive. Nobody knew what he would go on to be, that since he lost that semi-final round in the Atlanta Olympics he’d never lost a boxing match again.
The Lord Jesus was in the world, and the world was made through him, and the world did not know him. He should have been treated with the greatest of fanfare. If ever there was someone to be treated as special, there it was.
One of my boys, out of the blue two weeks ago, said “Dad, let me tell you three things I like and three things I don’t like about being a pastor’s kid.” I thought oh, boy, I better pay attention to this. I don’t remember them all except I remember him saying one of the things he didn’t like is he said “we have to be like the first ones there and the last ones to leave.” I said “well, we’re not actually the first ones there, we don’t sing in the choir, but we can be the last ones to leave.” But he said, I said, “what are the things you like?” He said, “well, one of the things I kind of like is everyone does kind of treat me special.” So good job. Everyone likes to be treated special. Hopefully all the kids here feel like there is somebody who treats them special, that’s part of what we want to do with children’s ministry. Everyone likes to feel like “I’m somebody, I’m here, people know me, people see me, people are glad when I arrive.” That’s part of what we want as a community.
And to think the Lord Jesus Christ, of all people, who made the world, the world didn’t know him. He should have been given honors, parades, been given laurels, and all the awards that humans could bestow.
What are you doing with this Jesus? Is he anything special to you? Some of you may have these plates. We have one or two of them that have been given to us, a bright red plate that says “You are special.” We take it out on a birthday. What are you doing for Jesus? Now what are you doing for him, but what are you doing, you know, with him? Receive him? Do you reject him?
They did now know him, it says. Now not just an intellectual knowing, that’s true, but more than that. They gave a stiff-arm to the one who gave them arms. If you are not interested in Jesus… Now you’re here at church and so we’re all interested in Jesus. No, I mean really interested in being a real disciple, worshiper of Jesus, if you’re not interested in that, don’t fool yourself and to think well, I’m just rejecting the church, the church has hurt me. That may be the case. Or say it’s just religion, I’m not interested in religion. Or it’s just a bunch of stuff that my parents taught me. No, do not kid yourself. You are, according to the Bible, rejecting the One to whom you owe your life and the One through whom the universe came into existence. It is a serious thing to reject the living God.
And then there’s one more phrase. We’ve gone through two of them. You see the third phrase in verse 11? “He came to his own.” It could mean his own people, human beings. He was a human, taking on human form. I think it means in particular the Jewish people. There is an emphasis in John on the Jews. It’s not because the gospel is anti-Semitic, that category would have made no sense to a first century Jew writing about a first century Jew whom he worshipped as saviour and Lord. No, there’s an emphasis on the Jews because John wants to demonstrate what he states here in the prologue, that Jesus came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. Think in your life of some of the moments of most exquisite pain. It is probably, other than death and that sort of tragedy, just the relational pain of being betrayed by those closest to us or a parent who rejects you, or kids who want nothing to do with us, or perhaps being spurned by those you labored with in ministry or those that you’ve cried over, and then you’re forgotten by them.
Well, think of Jesus. He was the One they had been waiting for. And when he arrived, they did not have eyes to see or ears to hear. They could, like us, so often be a stubborn and stiff-necked people.
Listen to Isaiah Chapter 1. “Hear, oh heavens, and give ear, oh, earth, for the Lord has spoken. Children have I reared and brought up but they have rebelled against me. The ox knows its owner and the donkey its master’s crib, but Israel does not know. My people do not understand. Ah, sinful nation. A people laden with iniquity. Offspring of evildoers, children who deal corruptly. They have forsaken the Lord. They have despised the Holy One of Israel. They are utterly estranged.” Does that describe any of us? Does it describe anyone you know?
Some of you may remember back in school when you had to read part of The Odyssey or The Iliad. Remember the hero, Odysseus? He returns home after being prisoner and on his long voyage, and he returns home and he’s disguised as a beggar. He comes there to Penelope, his wife, and she is surrounded by all of these treacherous suitors trying to woo her away. He disguises himself as a beggar and he makes attempt to win back his bride and has this competition that only he can win. And then when it’s finally revealed who he is, he slaughters all of the would-be suitors and kills them and wins back his bride.
So we have a story here of a son coming from a far country, and he comes to his own, to win back his bride. Except unlike those myths, he doesn’t lift up the veil, throw off the disguise, and slaughter his enemies. But unto the very end he is rejected by his own and instead of killing those to whom they owe life, he is put to death by the very ones he created. That’s the Christian story. He came to his own people and they rejected him. The Pharisees despised him, the scribes debated him, the Sadducees loathed him, the Chief Priests accused him, the disciples doubted him, Judas betrayed him, Peter denied him, Herod harassed him, Pilate washed his hands of him, then the soldiers beat him, and the Romans finally crucified him. He came to his own, and his own people, his family, did not receive him.
If you reject Jesus, it is a more serious offense than you think. The Word, the eternal Word, was in the world. The world, through whom through the Word came into being. That One was in the World and he came to his own and they said “no, thank you.” Worse than that, they said “we’ll kill you.”
But, don’t you love it when the Bible gives us that little word. Verse 12: “But if you receive Jesus,” and I look around and I hope and trust that that is most of us here, “if you have received Jesus.” I want you to think about the miracle that has taken place in your life. Some of you think, if only I could see a miracle. You know, we go through Exodus—miracles, there’s plagues, there’s water coming from rocks, there’s miracles all over the place. Go to the New Testament—there’s miracles. Go to Acts—there’s miracles. I want to see a miracle.
Well, you want to see a miracle? You believe in Jesus. That’s a miracle.
Some think of these two verses, 12 and 13, as the heart of the entire prologue. They certainly introduce us to the main argument of the book: Receiving Jesus when so many rejected him. Receiving for John is another way of saying believing. You see that in verse 12, those statements in parallel: “To all who did receive him, who believed in his name,” this is not mere intellectual assent, this is not just I went through a class, this is not simply sure, I’ll sign onto the Apostle’s Creed. This means I trust his name, I treasure his name, I will turn away from the world that I may follow this name. You believe and you receive.
And what do you receive? You receive the right, Greek word “exousia”, you receive the authority, you are granted the privilege to become children of God. It’s not a birthright. Many of us hear that and the language sort of falls on deaf ears because we think well, we’re all children of God, isn’t that what we all hear, and we’re all God’s children, and we sing songs, and isn’t that wonderful? We’re just all God’s children. Not so. It is not a birthright to be a child of God, it is a born-again right to be a child of God. It must be granted. We are not all children. John is very deliberate with this in his Greek. Unlike the rest of the New Testament, John distinguishes the word for son, “huios,” he uses only of Jesus. And then he uses the word “teknia” for us. Because of the Son, we can be children. God has one son by nature, he has many, many children by adoption.
So you see what he’s getting at here. Being a child of God on the one hand is not the prerogative of all. You cannot say that all are children of God. It is a right granted to some. And on the other hand, you cannot say it is the privilege only of the Jews, because some of the Jews may have been thinking that: Right, we have Father Abraham as our father, so we are the children. And he says “no, no, no, you are a child, not just by being a human being. You are a child of God when you receive Jesus by believing in his name, then God grants to you the greatest right in all the world.” You think of the Bill of Rights, you think of our rights that we cling to, is it my right, and what’s right, and what’s wrong, and some of you kids that’s all you can ever think about is your rights. Well, here’s the right you should be most concerned about: Have you been given the right to be called children of God?
How do you get that? How do you receive him? Well, you must be born again. We’ll see that later in the book. You must be born again. And how did that happen? How did it happen that you went from a heart of stone to a heart of flesh? How did you go from stone-cold dead to a living, breathing, spiritual being? How did that happen? Did you just decide, just wake up and say I want to be alive? Dead people don’t do that. They don’t just say I think I’ll live now. The image of scripture is us dead in our sins and trespass, not struggling, not weak, not sick, not infirm, not dying, but dead. Dead people don’t bring themselves back to life. And those who are born once must be born again.
And do you see what it says in verse 13? “If you believe in his name, you have been born not of blood.” That means your ancestry, however proud you are of your momma and daddy, however proud you are of your grandma and papa, however, whatever the heritage of faith, whatever battles they’ve fought, wherever, that does not get you into the kingdom. You do not get this right by being black or being white, by being Hispanic or being Asian. It is not based on where you went to school, or what sort of house you grew up in, or who your mommy was or your daddy or whether you knew your mommy and your daddy. It is not of blood. Nor of the will of the flesh.
So it’s not based on human choice. You weren’t born again because you decided that you ought to be born a second time. It’s not of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man. This was not based on human initiative. It wasn’t a man and a woman saying “well, let’s have a baby.” It wasn’t a man taking initiative to try to seduce a young woman. It wasn’t the product of any family planning. Not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man. That does not get you born again.
Only these last three words in verse 13: “But of God.” God’s initiative. The new birth, to use the theological term, is monergistic, not synergistic. Synergistic, that prefix means “with” and the ending part of that word “ergo, ergo,” think of an ergonomic chair which has to do with how you work in it, that’s the Greek word for work, so synergistic means working with. That would mean that we were born again by working with God, that God did something and we did something with God to be born again. That’s not what John 1:13 tells us. The work is entirely monergistic. Think of the beginning “mono” meaning one. It is by the will of the One working, of God. So this is entirely of God’s initiative, of supernatural origin.
Now you say, “but pastor, you began this whole sermon by saying you have to make a choice?” And it is true, choice is not a bad word. That’s a good Reformed word. We believe that you have to make a choice, but prior to that, in order to have the ability to even choose rightly, God must intervene and must grant to you new life and the gift of faith. It is entirely of God’s initiative, God’s design, by supernatural origin. This is, this new birth is, the mystery of the gospel, meaning we can’t fully explain it. It is the offense of the gospel because you can’t go out and produce it. And it is the hope of the gospel because you cannot resist it. To be born again.
So I want you to think this morning as we finish, and I want you to really be honest with yourself. I want you to think “Am I a Christian, really? Am I really a Christian?” Not what people think I am, not what mom and dad want me to be, not what I’ve been sort of doing, going through the motions, but am I really a Christian? Do I really believe this? Am I staking my whole life on it? Or are you indifferent to Jesus? Have you pushed aside Jesus? Have you convinced yourself in your mind you’re only rejecting religion, or the church, or your family, and it’s not really Jesus. Consider if you are walking away from Jesus, the sin is worse than you know. You are saying to the One who made you, the One who keeps you, the One who sustains you, I don’t need you. You think the One who made the world, the One who walked in the world, is not as interesting as fishing or cooking or football. Really? Really? That’s a serious offense.
And then I want you to think, if you are a Christian, many, most of you probably, you really believe, you really follow Jesus. And you struggle at times and you falter, but you really believe this. The miracle in your life is greater than you know. God reached down, gave you life, gave you faith, and has granted to you the immense privilege, the greatest privilege in all the world, to be a child of God.
From time to time I’ve known parents who have their kids call them by their first name, and some good people have done that and so I don’t mess around in their business but it seems to me, for a whole number of reasons, you know, authority and all that, but it seems to me just as importantly, why would you do that? Why would I have my kids call me Kevin? Any of you can call me Kevin, they’re the only ones who can call me dad. Only ones who can say dad, father, daddy, there are only seven people that can do that. Only seven people that I can call son or daughter, in a physical sense, my children. What a privilege. Think of the privilege you have that not everyone has. Billions do not know. But you get to call God your father. And he looks down upon you and gives you the right to be called his children.
The true light which gives light to everyone has come into the world. That’s the story of John’s gospel. Is it your story?
Let’s pray. Our Father in heaven, you have given us light. We are not strangers to the gospel, to Christ. You have given us your Word and the Word walked among us. Oh, Lord, lead us to faith and repentance. Give to each one in this room the gift of new birth that we might be called children of the living God and we might know and sing and savor the great joy that is ours, to be your people, to be your children, to be saved. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.