John 1:6-13 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. 8 He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.
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. 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.
Our passage for this morning helps us to see something truly profound about our salvation. God sent prophets for centuries before the Christ, promising and describing the Christ. God even promised one final prophet before the Christ to add one last, definitive piece of evidence of His coming. That prophet was John the Baptist. John was sent from God to bear witness about the Christ, the Light of the World.
From this, we can’t help but think of Isaiah 48:3-5 in which God said, “The former things I declared of old; they went out from my mouth and I announced them; then suddenly I did them and they came to pass. 4 Because I know that you are obstinate, and your neck is an iron sinew and your forehead brass, 5 I declared them to you from of old, before they came to pass I announced them to you…” God told His people what He would do well in advance so they would not miss it or give credit to someone else for it.
And yet, in spite of all of this, when the True Light came and revealed himself to everyone, the world did not recognize Him. He stood there in front of them, further confirming His nature and purpose through teaching, signs and wonders, but the world still did not know Him. John (the Gospel author) tells us that this is because before we can recognize the light, we must be born (again) of God. Let’s pray that God would help us grow to better understand and appreciate His sovereign grace in giving us the right to become children of God!
THE WITNESS (6-8)
A Test for Authenticity
Once again, John’s primary aim in his Gospel was to convince his readers that Jesus was the Christ God promised to send, in order that they would believe in Him and have life. How exactly would he convince his readers of this? We find one of the ways in vs.6-8. In them, John presented evidence in the form of a witness.
As I mentioned last week, it’s easy to make significant claims, but quite a bit harder to back them up. Indeed, generally speaking, the more significant claim, the more evidence required for a reasonable person to accept it. If any of you claimed to be able to run a mile in under 20 minutes, I’d probably believe you simply because that’s not a very fast time and most of you are reasonably fit—not a lot of non-readily available evidence is needed. It’d be a little different if you were to claim to be able to run better than a 6 minute mile. And it’d be another thing entirely if any of you claimed to have broken 4 minutes. Not many people have done that in the history of the world, I follow running enough that I usually know when someone does it, and too many of you eat donuts with me on Fridays. I’d need quite a bit more to go on before I’d believe you weren’t pulling my leg or crazy.
But what are we to make of claims so great that no evidence is truly sufficient? How do you actually prove a claim, for instance, to speak on behalf of God? Indeed, a common theme throughout the Bible is God’s people struggling to listen to and believe those God truly did send to be His messengers. Some of that is understandable. After all, anyone can, and many did, falsely claim to speak for God. Cults and false religions always stem from some version of this. There is always a need to carefully consider this kind of claim. In fact, it was so common and such a problem that God gave His people a number of tests/pieces of evidence over the years. John himself spoke of this in his first letter.
1 John 4:1 Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.
But, how exactly do we test to see if someone is from God? How might their claims be verified? What evidence might they or God give us? Again, in love, God gave His people a number of different ways to do so. For instance, in Deuteronomy 18, God gave the simple test of whether or not the man’s words came true.
Deuteronomy 18:20-22 But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.’ 21 And if you say in your heart, ‘How may we know the word that the LORD has not spoken?’— 22 when a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the LORD has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously…
Another (occasional) means God gave to validate the claim to speak on His behalf was the ability to perform some type of miraculous sign. He gave Moses a staff that could turn into a snake (Exodus 7:9) and hold back armies (Exodus 17:11). He also gave Moses the ability to perform other signs to show that he was God’s messenger (Exodus 4:6).
Similarly, Jesus was able to heal the sick and perform miracles to validate the fact that His teaching and mission were truly from the Father (Matthew 9:6).
The early Church leaders were given the ability in the Spirit to perform great signs and wonders. To show that Christ was risen and that they spoke on His behalf, God granted them the ability to heal (Acts 20:9) and preach with power beyond their natural means (Acts 4:13).
Well, we find another means of testing the authenticity of One claiming to speak on God’s behalf in John 1:6-8.
6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. 8 He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.
In order to help prove the claim that Jesus is the Christ, John told his readers of a man “sent from God” to bear witness concerning Jesus. The man was John the Baptist (which will become even more clear as we continue to work through the first chapter). In simplest terms, remarkably, God sent a prophet (Isaiah 40:3) and an angel (Luke 1:13-17) to prepare the world for the coming of John the Baptist, who would prepare the world for the coming of Jesus, the Christ. John the Baptist’s aim in preparing the way for Jesus was the same as John the Apostle’s aim in writing this Gospel: that all might believe in Jesus as the Christ. Again, that’s the heart of v.7.
7 He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him.
Again, don’t miss the simple fact that God gave significant evidence for the Christness of Jesus. He told His people in advance (like Isaiah 48) what to expect, so they would not miss Jesus when He came.
In the end, John the Gospel writer made sure to make it crystal clear that as remarkable as John the Baptist was, he was merely a messenger, pointing to one greater than himself. That’s what v.8 is about, “He [John the Baptist] was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.
Some Key Takeaways
A few key takeaways for us are:
- Be on guard against believing false claims about God. Doing so today means testing every claim concerning God against the Word of God. By God’s grace, as participants in the New Covenant, we have the most straight forward test of all, the Bible. We can now know if someone speaks for God by comparing what they say to what God has revealed to us in the Bible, since it gives us everything God requires of us (2 Timothy 3:16).
- Be the most faithful witness you can be concerning Jesus, that all might believe through you! If you have seen the Light, it is your privilege and responsibility to bear witness to it. And, like John, our witness ought to be to everyone, indiscriminately. It’s not up to us to decide who should hear or who might receive the light. We must simply call on everyone to believe through our message. And also under this banner, as witnesses of the Light, the manner in which we proclaim/bear witness to the Light really does matter. To be a credible witness is to love and walk in the light ourselves.
- We must remember that we are not the light. We are not the point of our ministry of light. It’s not about us. We delight ourselves with leading others to Jesus for His glory, not our own.
All of this will become even more clear when we get to the second half of chapter one and into the “Book of Signs”. There’s we’ll be introduced to the person of John the Baptist, hear of his illuminating ministry, and see its result.
THE TRUE LIGHT (9)
Again, John was not the light, but his presence and ministry indicated that the true light, the Christ, Jesus, was here.
9 The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.
The time had finally come. After centuries of waiting and longing and hoping and struggling, it was time. God loved the world (as we will see) in such a way that He waited until just the right time to send the Light of the world; and that time was now. Praise God for this, Grace Church. What a gift of grace.
What’s more, we see here that true light must shine. It can’t not. Jesus cannot “turn off” the light, or fail to give it, anymore than He can turn off goodness or truth or love. He can’t not give those things because He is those things. Where Jesus is, He is giving light. As we saw last week, then, this verse does not say that Jesus came to give light, nearly as much as it says that He came and His light with Himt.
But even more central to this simple verse is that Jesus gives light to everyone. We’ll unpack this week after week throughout our time in the Gospel, but let me simply name a few aspects of this now.
- Jesus gives light to everyone in several ways. It is for all, in that it is what all need. It is for all, in that it both is and illuminates the way to fullness of life. And it is for all, in that it is available to all who encounter it to either accept or reject.
- The manner in which those who encounter the Light respond to it, does not alter the lightness of the Light. Whether we miss it entirely, see it and hate it, are angered by it, reject it, deny it, or embrace it in faith, the light is still the light for all.
- In these key ways, we cannot impose the True Light on anyone. This is very different than the way the world talks about the light of Jesus, but the way the God talks about the light is more important than the way His creatures do.
This, of course, leaves us with the question of how the world would respond. God promised, John the Baptist announced the arrival, and now the Light had come. How would He be received?! Vs.9-11 answer that question plainly.
NO ONE RECOGNIZED THE LIGHT (9-11)
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.
10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him.
Before getting into the specifics of these few verses, I need you to imagine how silly the scene would be if you were trying to convince someone standing in front of the sun (the giant ball of fire in the sky) that it’s real and bright and hot. It’s right there, shining in all its fury, blazing heat and blinding light, but you’re charged with the task of convincing someone who simply cannot already see or feel those things. What would you say? What could you say? What evidence might you present that would be able to do what standing in front of the sun itself couldn’t do?
As I mentioned earlier, and as I’ll mention again at the end, this is such a significant aspect of John’s understanding of what it means to “receive him [Jesus]” and “know him” that it’s hard to overstate. Jesus, the Christ, the very Son of God, the true light of the world, came into the world. He walked among men and women, the men and women He’d created, men and women who were standing on the earth the Father had made through Him. He is the one to whom all things belong, perfect in holiness, and the exact representation of the invisible God. He stood shining for all to see, and yet He wasn’t even recognized. He wasn’t even seen as light.
He came first to the children of Abraham, John wrote; to those who had the covenants and promises and feasts and laws and had experienced the Exodus and the giving of the Promised Land and the victory of the Dividic rule. “11 He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.
But as we saw, He did not shine only on “His own”. “He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him” (v.10). This is like the most dramatic version ever of Undercover Boss. The very one who made the world, walked on the world He made and the world had no idea.
Again, what do you say to someone staring at the face of God, who cannot recognize they are looking at God? What helpful evidence can you give that God is real and present and good and glorious beyond measure and offers Himself to someone, if God standing in front of them offering all of those things, cannot convince them?! That’s the heart of what John was trying to communicate in these few verses in his Gospel and throughout it.
This is the case for all of us at all times. We have the Word, we have creation, we have the heavens, we have the testimony of the saints, we have the image of God woven into us, we have the gospel, and so do our friends and neighbors and family members, and yet, so often, we cannot see the true light that has come into the world.
So, what do we say? “Try harder”? “Just believe”? “Work at it”? No, we cry out to God and urge everyone else to do so as well, “God, open my eyes to behold your glory. If you do not grant eyes to see, I will never see.”
The big idea that this passage introduces is the reality that John’s aim is to help people believe that Jesus is the Christ in light of the fact that His presence alone should be more than enough.
And that leads us straight to the final point.
HOW TO BECOME CHILDREN OF GOD (12-13)
In spite of all that God had offered and promised, and in spite of the announcing ministry of John the Baptist, the world rejected the True Light. So where does that leave us?
Receive and Believe
First, John wrote, the offer still stands. And until Jesus returns, it will always stand. “12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God…”.
To “receive Him” is to acknowledge the authority—the life-giving, illuminating authority—of Jesus. And to “believe in His name” is to accept all that Jesus claimed about Himself as true. Combined they signify a change from trusting in ourselves and treasuring created things, to trusting in Jesus and treasuring Him above all.
To all who receive Jesus and believe in His name, God will adopt as His own children. No matter what we’ve done in the past or when we do so in this life, if we will truly receive and believe in Jesus, God will give us the right to become His children. No amount of our rejection or hard-heartedness will keep us from God’s love if we will receive and believe.
But that still leaves us with the critical question of how that happens. How do we do so while it’s possible to stand in front of the True light, the source of all light, brighter than a billion suns, and not even know we’re doing so? The answer is found in the final verse.
To believe and receive, we must see the True Light. But to see the True Light, we must first be born. Well, that means we’re all good, right? If you are in this room and can understand my words, you definitely meet the qualification of being born, so you must be able to see the True Light of God and, therefore, receive it and believe in His name. Simple. Not quite; for, to see, receive, and believe, John wrote, not just any birth will do. It takes a special kind of birth.
Before we briefly consider the three kinds of birth that will not allow you to see, receive, and believe, and the one kind of birth that will, I invite you to consider with me the simple fact that being born is perhaps the most passive thing we can possibly do. If you pay careful attention to John’s Gospel, you’ll see this many times in the teaching of Jesus as we work through it.
With that, what kind of births won’t do?
- First, it is not a birth of blood. God did not give the right to become His children to those, “who were born… of blood…”. In simplest terms, this means that merely being born by natural means is insufficient. Something more than being born as all babies are born is necessary.
- Second, it is not a birth of the will of the flesh. God did not give the right to become His children to those, “who were born … of the will of the flesh…”. Again, simply, this means being born as a result of natural (physical) desires is insufficient as well.
- And third, it is not a birth of the will of man. God did not give the right to become His children to those “who were born…of the will of man…”. That is, being born according to our parents’ plans is not the kind of birth that allows us to see, receive, and believe in Jesus.
Those are certainly the three main components to every normal birth. If none of them are sufficient, what’s left? What kind of birth will do? John does not make his readers wait long before he gives the answer.
- It is a new birth of God. “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.” Again, the rest of John’s Gospel helps us to see what exactly that means, but for now, please understand this simple, but entirely profound teaching of John: a kind of new birth of God is necessary to see, receive, believe, and then become children of God. The question, then, that John raises and answers over and over in his Gospel, is whether we believe in order to be born or if we must be born in order that we can believe. Do we trust in Jesus so that new birth can follow, or do we receive the new birth so that trust can follow?
Plainly, simply, directly, John’s Gospel is emphatic about the facts that Jesus is the Christ, that life is only in Him, that life comes from believing in Jesus, and that belief comes from being born of God.
So, why can we stand before Jesus unaware and unmoved? Why can we share the gospel with the world and have them reject it in anger even though the Light is in the world? Why did you believe in Jesus when so many don’t? Because seeing, believing, and receiving, come after being born of God.
What this means, how it works, and the truly glorious nature of it will become clearer and clearer as we walk with Jesus in John’s Gospel.
Grace, God promised that the Christ would come, and He has. He is the light of the world. He is shining now for all to see and believe and receive. And the call on your life and mine is to do that today—see, believe and receive Him. If you do, you will have life and you will be given the right to become children of God. This is an awesome, undeserved gift. Would you receive it today?