Welcome to the adventure! We’ll be globetrotting through the gospel of John together, and I’m your guide. (Please keep all appendages in the vehicle at all times. And don’t trust the zebras; they have sneaky feet.) What better place to start out than the majestic Taj Mahal?
John opens his book with 18 verses that send the imagination soaring. It’s absolutely breathtaking when you grasp the scope of what he’s trying to communicate using finite human language. How do you cram the Designer of the cosmos into ink on a page? The simplest answer to such a mind-boggling problem is to call Him “the Word.”
Here are my highlights from chapter one. Didn’t get a chance to go through it yet? No problem! You can start now and go at your own pace. Just know that I’m a step ahead of you, feeling out the ground for solid footing. I’ll warn you if there are spiders. (If you’d rather have the CliffsNotes version, you can read through my binder. I don’t mind sharing!)
Scripture writing: my favorite passage to write out using The Message was verses 16-18. I love how it combines the ultimate and intimate aspects of God in such a powerful way:
We all live off His generous bounty, gift after gift after gift. We got the basics from Moses, and then this exuberant giving and receiving, this endless knowing and understanding—all this came through Jesus, the Messiah. No one has ever seen God, not so much as a glimpse. This one-of-a-kind God-Expression, who exists at the very heart of the Father, has made Him plain as day.
Studying: the most significant discovery for me was what the invitation to Christianity really is. Because John’s gospel is all about providing a clear case of Jesus’ person and work so that readers may believe, the first chapter establishes a simple, straightforward definition of what that looks like. My study Bible’s note on verse 12 says,
‘Receive Him’ implies not merely intellectual agreement with some facts about Jesus but also welcoming and submitting to Him in a personal relationship.
Along the same lines, the Amplified Bible puts Christ’s call in verse 43 like this:
“Follow Me [as My disciple, accepting Me as your Master and Teacher, and walking the same path of life that I walk].”
It’s tempting to make receiving and following Jesus less a vibrant friendship and more a cut-and-dried syllabus to master, but God’s not content with a standoffish A on a theology test; a real live Person has His hand extended, beckoning us to receive and follow. We’re not given the option of agreeing from a distance, safely insulated from personal interaction.
Commentaries: Call me a nerd, but I’ve really enjoyed getting to know Matthew Henry (affectionately called Matty H around here) through his thoughts on this chapter. The concept that stuck out most to me was about verse 16. He says,
[Grace upon grace] is one grace heaped upon another … it is a blessing poured out, that there shall not be room to receive it, plenteous redemption: one grace a pledge of more grace.
“That there shall not be room to receive it.” So much grace we legitimately won’t be able to handle it all because our hands and the whole world are too small to hold it. Can you even imagine? What a thrilling picture!
D.A. Carson adds a more contemporary perspective to the mix. (Is it cheating if my favorite quote from him so far was in his introduction?)
To have faith in the gospel message is not the same thing as responding favorably to the story of Superman, who is also said to invade our turf from beyond.
Guys, I need this kind of Scripture-driven sass in my life. Also, his explanation of the Pharisees as creative watchdogs who had helped save Judaism from tyrants in the past was surprisingly soothing. As a recovering Pharisee myself, it’s refreshing to read information about the non-monstrous side of these men. And the thing about baptism only being self-administered?? What?? I’d never heard that before. Okay, one last thing before I move on:
The Baptist’s words [“I’m not worthy to untie His sandals”] … betray extraordinary humility in the context of a society where a student was expected to do for his teacher whatever a slave would do—except take off his shoes. John the Baptist makes no exceptions, not even this one.
Mic drop on all of my exceptions. Are you taking notes, O my soul?
Sermons: Mr. Driscoll, your enthusiasm is contagious. (Seriously, they should bottle that kind of excitement about John’s gospel.) His best line? “Anything you do for Jesus is great because Jesus is great … greatness isn’t in what we do but in Who we do it for.” Talk about an empowering idea! Another sentiment that has stayed with me for days: “The last step of your life can be the best step if the Lamb has taken away your sins.” My grandpa is in surgery as I type this, so I find that line a timely comfort to my heart.
John MacArthur is an entirely different kind of preacher (but also great). He says, “The richness of the Word concerning Christ becomes the dominating motivation for mature behavior. Behavior is inextricably linked to motivation … the more you love, the more obedient you’ll become.” We do based on what we believe—none of this “fake it til you make it” nonsense. Beholding Jesus makes the Christian life look more satisfying to us than sin could ever be. And in the thread of my earlier focus on following Jesus, he states, “Exposure isn’t the same as faith.” Boom.
Journaling: You can study and read and watch and listen all you want, but when the process turns to journaling, a shift happens from the head to the heart. This is where the rubber meets the road. This God you’ve been learning about prompts you to get specific. My biggest aha moments were that looking more like my Dad (God) and big Brother (Jesus) involves not making people earn my relationship/approval/presence; that being convinced of God’s Word gives me space to be right or wrong without affecting my identity; and that I tend to drop in on Jesus out of fear or manners rather than staying with Him.
Meditation: We end this wrap-up with dwelling on specific passages. My favorite translation of verse 5 goes like this:
A light that thrives in the depths of darkness blazes through murky bottoms. It cannot and will not be quenched. (VOICE)
I got convicted about making space for the darkness—not really adding to it, but not viewing it as my mortal enemy, either. Because it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me, I need to face my break with the darkness. Instead of trying to minimize the disagreement, I should be gazing at Jesus, the Source of light. He calls me to walk as a child of the day, to war against the dark. In moments of fear, I can ask, “Where is the Light shining here? How can I join Him?”
As we leave this theological Taj Mahal and head out on the next leg of our journey, let’s turn around and wave goodbye, taking one last look at the beauty of chapter one. Good old Matty H does us a solid and puts the gospel in a nice little nutshell:
God could have taken away the sin [of the world] by taking away the sinner, as He took away the sin in the old world; but He has found out a way of abolishing the sin, and yet sparing the sinner, by making His Son sin for us.
Thanks be to God, we are free to believe!