As we are still in the prologue of the book of John, I think it would help us to realize that John is not occupied with merely presenting a biography of Jesus. We are all, I’m sure, more or less familiar with the history of Jesus Christ. So to simply retell the story of Christ’s life on earth would have limited benefit. But what John is presenting in his gospel is doctrine: the facts about Jesus which according to his stated purpose in chapter 20:31, “have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.”
So as we pointed out last time, John doesn’t start his gospel as a biography might begin – with the birth of Jesus – but he starts with the theology of Jesus; that He was in the beginning with God, and He was God. So in the first five verses, John establishes that in the beginning was God, and God was the Word, and the Word was life and the Word was Light.
Now last time we spent a lot of time talking about the significance of Jesus being called the Word. Today I would like to focus on the stated fact that Jesus, or the Word, was Light. I believe John as well as many other Bible writers give great emphasis to the fact that Christ is the personification of Light. In fact, Jesus Himself frequently applied that designation to Himself. For instance, in John 8:12, “Jesus again spoke to them, saying, ‘I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.’”
Interestingly, Jesus there presents the Light as being part of life, which is exactly how John presents it in vs4: “In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men.” Now in order to understand the connection between life and light which both Jesus and John were speaking of, it’s necessary to once again go back to Genesis chapter one. In the creation account, we have not only a historical, factual record of the beginning of creation, but I believe there is incorporated in the story of creation an allegory which illustrates certain themes of salvation. So look at Genesis 1:1. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness.” So God was in the beginning, before time, existing in three persons who were one God. And we see all three in this passage; God the Father, the Spirit of God and the Word of God.
Now that was day one. God created the heavens and the earth, and they were formless and void, and the Spirit of God moved over them, and God said, or we could say the Word said, “let there be light.” And there was light in the darkness, and the light was good. God doesn’t say the darkness was good, but that the light was good.
But if you look down at day four, in vs.14, you notice that God made the sun and the moon and the stars. So the light that God made in the first day was not light which came from the sun, moon or stars, but light that emanated from somewhere else. And to add even more mystery, in day three, God made plants and seeds and trees, which sprouted even though there was no sunlight at that time.
So what we can discern from this passage is that God existed in three persons, and the Word was life, creating the heavens and the earth, and the Word became Light, which was the light of the world, and it was a real light emanating from life which caused plants to sprout and life to exist. Science tells us that light is simply a visible form of energy. So you cannot have light without a source of energy, and what the Bible is teaching is that the energy of all life and producing light is none other than the Word of God who was with God and who was God.
So now we can understand the relationship of life and light as John said in vs. 4, “in Him was life, and the life was the Light of men.” Because He was the life, nothing came into being without Him, nothing had life without Him. He is the source of life as Paul said in Acts 17:28, “for in Him we live and move and exist.”
John then is saying that the Word was life, He was the source of all life, He is spiritual life and physical life and God manifested that life as Light. First in creation, and secondly in the Word, and thirdly in salvation.
You don’t need to turn to it, as I’m sure you are all familiar with it, but in the third chapter of Genesis there is recorded the fall of man. God said if you eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you will surely die. But we don’t see Adam and Eve fall down dead after biting into the fruit. But what we do see is God removing them from the Garden of Eden. He removed them from His presence and when man was removed from the source of life, the light went out and man died spiritually. That divine spark that man was made with, made in the image and likeness of God was extinguished. And man did surely die. I liken it to a potted plant that sits on your porch which flourishes when it is in the sun, but if you were to put it in your closet it would surely die. It may still look somewhat alive a few days later perhaps, but eventually it would shrivel up and die. And so with man, when he was removed from the Light of life, he shriveled up and died.
That is why God correlates darkness with man’s world without Christ. The scriptures use that description over and over again in both the Old and New Testaments to describe the world that we live in. For example, in the book of Job the world is pictured repeatedly as being in darkness, without understanding, without hope. And that lack of divine understanding is what darkness illustrates. We live in darkness, separated from God and from the life of God. We are lifeless, formless and void, without the light of God. But then God spoke, and said “let there be light, and the light shone in the darkness and separated the darkness, and it was good.”
Now last week we said about vs. 5 that some manuscripts translate the phrase as the darkness could not overpower it, rather than the KJV translation which says the darkness could not comprehend it. And there are merits to the first translation, as I pointed out last week. Light triumphs over darkness. Christ triumphs over darkness, ie, sin, the world, death and Satan. But there is also merit in translating it as comprehend. The darkness does not comprehend it, or apprehend it. And today we want to lean more in that direction because that is the idea presented it the following verses. The Light appears, shines in the darkness, but the world in darkness does not receive the Light, does not understand the Light, and ultimately rejects the Light.
This idea of comprehending the Light is evidenced further by John in vs. 10 and 11; “He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him.” See, that is saying that the world did not comprehend Him. They saw the Creator of the universe, the source of all life in human form, and did not understand Him, and ultimately rejected Him. Man was in darkness, and though the Light appeared, he did not accept it, did not understand it, and so turned from it to the darkness.
Now man’s lack of comprehension results in God’s compassionate desire to help men to believe in the Light. And to do that He raises up men to testify of the Light. Vs. 6. “There came a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to testify about the Light, so that all might believe through him. He was not the Light, but he came to testify about the Light.” Were it not for the fact that St. John had just said the world did not comprehend the Light, we might wonder at the abruptness of the introduction of John the Baptist. But now we can understand that God sent John in order to bear witness of the Light. To explain the Light.
I think it was Matthew Henry who said, “That is indicative of the severity of the darkness and blindness of men that they needed a witness to the light.” And I agree that man’s depravity has blinded him to be able to see the Light. But I also think his depravity is so great that he rejects the Light because He doesn’t want to be ruled by the light. Back in Genesis 1 God said about the lights of heaven that they were to govern the day and govern the night. And I believe that indicates the contrary nature of man’s fall and of his rebellion. He wants to govern himself. He wants to decide what is right and what is wrong. God said the light is good. Man says I will decide what is good.
In John 3:19-20 Jesus said, “This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.” See, man loves evil, so he loves the darkness. He doesn’t want anyone to be a ruler over him.
That love of darkness reminds me of the old song by Simon and Garfunkel, “The Sound of Silence.” The apostle Paul quoted Greek poets so I guess it’s ok if I quote modern poets. Now I doubt that Simon and Garfunkel intended their song to be meant in the way I understand it, but it’s interesting that the songwriter says, “Hello darkness my old friend…” Man loves darkness. He prefers it, welcomes it. And it’s even more interesting that Paul Simon correlates the sound of silence, the lack of speech as resulting in a darkness of life in which people lived without life, without words. It’s ironic that the great theologian John Calvin translated the Word in John 1 as Speech. Paul Simon describes this darkness as silence where words do not penetrate, though prophets warn of the peril of rejecting it. But the people bowed and prayed to the neon god they made. His last two stanzas say; “Fools,” said I, “You do not know. Silence like a cancer grows. Hear my words that I might teach you. Take my arms that I might reach you.” But my words like silent raindrops fell And echoed in the wells of silence. And the people bowed and prayed To the neon god they made. And the sign flashed out its warning In the words that it was forming. And the sign said, “The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls And tenement halls And whispered in the sounds of silence.”
Man rejects the light because he loves the deeds of darkness. I was talking with my daughter the other day about society and how the rejection of God’s law produces anarchy. The utter depravity of man is fully exposed when there is no fear of detection or punishment. That’s why when law and order breaks down there is chaos and rioting and looting. When people can act out there basest desires without fear of retribution society can quickly become a terrifying thing. And that is why the scriptures refer to us Christians as being salt and light in the world. The law of God stifles corruption, it acts as guard against anarchy. The light of God’s word drives back the darkness and keeps it from overpowering the creation.
So John was to be a witness of the Light; to testify of the Light. He was the first prophet to appear on the scene in 400 years. He was to prepare the people’s heart to receive the Light. And how did John do that? By preaching, “repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.” Man needed to repent of his evil deeds, his rebellion, his sin in order to receive the Light which leads to life.
Notice though the apostle John makes a point of saying John the Baptist was not the Light, but he was sent to bear witness of the Light. In other words, John the Baptist was one of the lights of heaven, bearing witness of the Light of God, reflecting the Light of God to the world by word and deed. John was like the light of the moon in comparison to the sun. He reflected the Light. He did not have light in and of himself, but he reflected the Light of Christ to the world.
And I want to point out another word in vs.6 that bears mentioning. And that is the word sent. John the Baptist was sent by God to bear witness. John is a model preacher. He was by all accounts a prophet of God. He did not tailor his message to the world. He did not survey the interests of society and then tailor his message to their perceived desires. But he preached a message from God to the world. He did not try to be popular. He did not rise to great prominence in order to have a huge church and draw attention to himself. But he said about Jesus; “He must increase, but I must decrease.” He simply preached the gospel of Jesus Christ.
I was talking with someone the other day about pastoring. And the conversation eventually ran the gamut from sizes of churches, to denominations, to what seminary someone had graduated from, and I said as far as I’m concerned, and I think I can say as far as God is concerned, there are only two characteristics that are important when it comes to pastors. One you have to be born again. I think that eliminates about half of the pastors in the United States right there. And at least half of the other half would be eliminated by the second requirement, which is that you have to be called by God. To use the apostle John’s words, you must be “sent by God.” I’m afraid there are a lot of people in pulpits today that are not sent by God. And it’s apparent because they don’t preach the gospel. If God calls you, then He will equip you. He is the one that gives us the Spirit to empower us, He is the source of our wisdom and discernment. And you can have all the tools and all the books and all the degrees and a huge building and all the acclaim of men but if you have not been called by God to preach the gospel then all those things are not going to be of any benefit to fulfilling the purpose of God. And furthermore, I cannot understand why Christians would want to sit under those pastors, but I guess it goes back to the principle that we love darkness rather than light, because the light exposes our evil deeds.
But whether or not you are called to be a pastor, all Christians are sent to be witnesses of the gospel. Matt. 5:14-16, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”
All of us are to bear witness and testify to the Light of the gospel. Romans 10:14-15 says, “How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!”
Now though John introduces John the Baptist here, the emphasis is not really on him but on the Light. And so he goes on to say about the Light in vs. 9, “There was the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man.” Now just as John the Baptist was a minor light, a reflection of Christ, so all the prophets of old were reflections of the light of heaven. And I believe that there was a degree of light that came through the Word given through the prophets, which became the Old Testament scriptures. I also believe that even as Genesis 1 illustrated, there was the light of creation which Paul said in Romans 1 was enough to teach man that there was an eternal God. Paul said in Rom. 1:20, “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.” That was the Light of the world seen through creation that enlightens every man.
But in the next verse Paul says that though they recognized that it was divine light, they rejected it and were plunged into ever greater darkness. Rom. 1:21 “For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.”
Thus we see in Matthew’s gospel a quote from the prophet Isaiah referencing the advent of Christ as being like a great light coming to a people living in darkness. Matt. 4:15-16 “THE LAND OF ZEBULUN AND THE LAND OF NAPHTALI,BY THE WAY OF THE SEA, BEYOND THE JORDAN, GALILEE OF THE GENTILES– “THE PEOPLE WHO WERE SITTING IN DARKNESS SAW A GREAT LIGHT,AND THOSE WHO WERE SITTING IN THE LAND AND SHADOW OF DEATH,UPON THEM A LIGHT DAWNED.” This great light spoken of by the prophets was none other than the Light of the world. The Light of Life. Jesus Christ.
But as vs.10 and 11 tell us, the Light came into the world that existed through Him, and it did not receive Him. “He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him.” Paul said virtually the same thing in 1Cor. 2:14, “But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.”
Actually, that’s what I think Genesis 1 is indicating when it says after the heavens and the earth was created but they were in darkness, that the Spirit of God moved upon the waters and then the Light appeared. Though the Light has come into the world, it is necessary for the Spirit of God to move on the hearts of men if they are going to receive Christ. Jesus said in John 6:44, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him.” Now God draws people in many ways, but one way is through the witness and testimony of His people, particularly His preachers. God has ordained that by the foolishness of preaching men would be saved. 1Cor. 1:21 “For since in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.”
And that leads us to the conclusion of this paragraph concerning the Light of the world, in vs.12-13. “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” So this is where the will of man and the sovereignty of God come together. Man is rebellious and depraved, rejecting the rule of his Lord, rejecting the Light of the truth for the sake of loving his own sin and wickedness. But the Light of God persists, piercing the darkness, the Spirit of God moves upon his heart in conjunction with the preaching of the gospel by the witnesses of the Light, and some believe and receive Him and are saved.
There is on the one hand the responsibility of man to respond and receive the Light, and on the other hand the necessity for God to extend unto man the grace to believe the gospel. And the outcome is that man when man believes and receives Christ he is born again, moved from darkness into light, from death to life, reborn spiritually whereas he was previously dead in his trespasses and sins. When we receive the Light, the Light produces life, spiritual life, eternal life. We are made alive with Christ. We are made a new creation. We walk no more in darkness but in life. Eph. 5:8 “for you were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light.”
To those who receive the Light, we are now made children of Light, even children of God. Not by blood, that is by human lineage. Not by heredity. Not by the will of the flesh. That is not by self effort to become righteous. Nor by the will of man, not by the decree of man, the decree of a priest or church or institution. But by the will of God. God is the giver of life, and He gives it to whoever believes in the Son of God, whoever receives Him. To receive Christ as our Savior and our Lord, and as our God. That’s what it means to receive Christ. To know Him, to accept Him and trust Him. To know all that He is, and all that He is to be, to believe it, and then to trust Him. To trust in His atonement for our sin. To trust Him to raise us from the dead. To know that Christ is good, even as God said the light was good. And we can yield completely our lives to the very source of life and then walk in the Light, even as He is in the Light. 1John 1:7, “if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.”
I will just close by asking one question; have you received the Light of the world? Have you been born again into spiritual life as a child of God? As many as receive Christ, to them God gives the right to be the children of God. That is a promise of life that lies waiting for you to accept, if you will just accept who He is and trust Him with your life. Don’t reject him and stay in the darkness. Come to the Light.