The fourth gospel is essential. John gives us a direct look into the heart of Jesus—into who Jesus is. It was a book that was written for one purpose: that we might believe. What a blessing to have a book written primarily to help us understand the character of Christ and the meaning behind the events the Son of God performed so we would believe.
As you embark on a fresh year, don’t not waste 2019. Intentionally invest each day into knowing more of who Jesus is. He wants you to believe and experience life in His name. The first chapter of John is rather lengthy, so you must resist the urge to skim. Studying God’s Word takes work and as you “work out” your salvation (not for your salvation), I assure you His revelation and supernatural strength will ignite you heart and fuel your spirit. You can do hard things!
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
- I’ve read and reread these verses, praying that a clear and profound word would come to my heart for me to share with you. I got nothin’. Jesus was always present, He was always with God, everything that exists was made by Him, and He’s your Life and your Light. ‘Nuff said.
- In these verses, John is making a clear tie between Jesus’ eternal deity—as the Son of God—and His human flesh. Jesus was fully God and fully man. Both were necessary to fulfill the requirements of the Old Testament and to bring forward grace.
6 There was a man sent from God whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. 8 He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. 9 The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world.10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.
- The John mentioned in these verses isn’t the John writing the book—it’s referring to John the Baptist. What I love about these verses as you read them is that while it does start off talking about John the Baptist, it quickly pivots to how John is pointing others to Jesus. Try swapping out the writing using your name. “There was a [woman] sent from God whose name was ________.” [She] came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through [her] all might believe.
- The word “light” is a key theme in this book (free tip: try circling that word each time you read in your Bible). Think about being in a huge, pitch black stadium. You can’t even see your own hand in front of your face. Now, reach into the pocket of your favorite jeans. Yep, there’s a wee box of matches in there. Pull it out, fumble around, and take a match out of the box; then, strike the match on the rough side of the box. Despite the massive, overwhelming darkness, does the fire still produce light? Sure enough. Light shines in darkness, no matter how small the flame or how consuming the darkness.
- Check out verse 12: “Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God…” Here we have that believe word being used. As you point people to the true Light, rest assured that some will not receive Him (as it says in verse 10) and others will believe. Keep casting that seed! It’s God’s responsibility to nurture it with His Light; it’s your responsibility to simply point to the Source of Light.
14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
- This is a key verse in chapter 1, so it’s worthy of highlighting or underlining in your own Bible (it’s okay to mark in the Word!). The very deity and essence of God was wrapped in human flesh. Do you remember the story of when Jesus took Peter, James, and John (the John who wrote this book) up on the mountain and He transfigured before them and “His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light” (Matthew 17)? That event was important to help the disciples—and us—realize how the divine nature of God was cloaked or overlaid with a human flesh. Jesus still got tired, friends (we’ll talk more about that in chapter 4). He got thirsty and hungry and needed recharge time, too. He was fully God and fully man.
- Another couple words to pay attention to is at the very end of this verse: grace and truth. John couples these words together and you’ll see these characteristics play out in Jesus’ life. Grace—or the loving kindness of God—cannot be present without truth and vice versa. Let me explain more. I can tell someone the truth, but if it is not permeated in grace (loving kindness) it will come off cold and not bring about change. When someone is amiss, and I display grace, but do not tell them the truth, they will not grow.
- Jesus shows us His loving kindness through the unmerited gift of salvation. However, to receive this gift of eternal salvation and fellowship with God, we must (1) recognize the truth of who we are (that’s the ugly); (2) the truth of who Jesus is (the gift of salvation to mankind); (3) simply believe. Grace and truth precede belief.
15 (John testified concerning him. He cried out, saying, “This is the one I spoke about when I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’”) 16 Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.
- The Law, which was given through Moses, was never meant to save us. It was meant to show us our sin. There were rules, regulations, dos and don’ts…and they were impossible to keep. That’s why there were repeat sacrifices and the Day of Atonement (when the High Priest went into the Holy of Holies once a year and sacrificed for the sins of the Jews). There was sacrifice after sacrifice after sacrifice because it was never enough. The Law was an effort-driven system, and that system was necessary to reveal to the people that mankind couldn’t be good enough to earn God’s love.
- So, God—in his loving kindness—sent a permanent “grace solution,” Jesus Christ. “Jesus, the Word, was the perfect declaration of the unseen God” (David Guzik).
19 Now this was John’s testimony when the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was. 20 He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, “I am not the Messiah.”
21 They asked him, “Then who are you? Are you Elijah?”
He said, “I am not.”
“Are you the Prophet?”
He answered, “No.”
22 Finally they said, “Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?”
- In these verses, the religious leaders are questioning John the Baptist to determine who he is. Mankind is so skeptical, and that skepticism and cynicism is only multiplying in our culture, especially as new generations are born. I love the final questions the Pharisees ask, and I believe it sets John the Baptist up perfectly for a response: “What do you say about yourself?”
- John was also clear in stating who he was not during this questioning. He was not the Messiah. He was not Elijah. He was not the Prophet. Being clear about who we are not, and our human limitations, is a godly practice. It ties into that “n” word most of us need to practice more in our life: no. We can’t be all things to all people and John the Baptist knew that well. He knew that they needed a Savior, not a sinful man.
- Friends, this is a healthy question to ponder and ask God about. What is it that you say about yourself? What do you say about yourself when you pray? What do you say about yourself when you talk with others? Take a moment and wrestle with this question with God. Ultimately, what we say about ourselves should reflect what Christ says about us. Here’s a link to what God says about you for you to meditate on “under the fig tree” (we’ll talk about that phrase a little later in this study).
23 John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, “I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’”
24 Now the Pharisees who had been sent 25 questioned him, “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?”
26 “I baptize with water,” John replied, “but among you stands one you do not know. 27 He is the one who comes after me, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.”
28 This all happened at Bethany on the other side of the Jordan, where John was baptizing.
- Did you catch how John responded to the world’s questioning? He responded using the Word of God from the book of Isaiah. We should all have this response welling up in our hearts like a fountain: “I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’” (Isaiah 40:3).
- David Guzik well-summarizes the purpose of John’s baptisms:
John’s baptism demonstrated the humble willingness to repent, be cleansed, and prepare for the coming Messiah. Yet John’s baptism gave nothing to help someone keep clean. The work of Jesus and His baptism of the Holy Spirit represents more than John’s baptism. Jewish people in John’s day practiced baptism. It was an outgrowth of ceremonial washings, but only for Gentiles who wanted to become Jews. In submitting to John’s baptism, a Jew had to identify with Gentile converts. That was a genuine sign of repentance.
29 The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel.”
32 Then John gave this testimony: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. 33 And I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 I have seen and I testify that this is God’s Chosen One.”
- John the Baptist’s declaration was not, “Look, a great moral man!” or “Behold, a wise teacher!” His declaration was, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” The world will explain Jesus in many ways. A moral man, a great teacher, a miracle worker, a legend of old…be certain that your definition aligns with what God says. Jesus was a perfect sacrifice sent to this world because the laws and regulations were never meant to save mankind. Believe that He came to take away your sin!
35 The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. 36 When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!”
37 When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. 38 Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What do you want?”
They said, “Rabbi” (which means “Teacher”), “where are you staying?”
39 “Come,” he replied, “and you will see.”
So they went and saw where he was staying, and they spent that day with him. It was about four in the afternoon.
40 Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. 41 The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ). 42 And he brought him to Jesus.
Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which, when translated, is Peter).
- This is a fascinating section of scripture, so don’t miss what’s happening. There were two disciples (one was Andrew and the other was unnamed; some people it to be John the gospel writer) and they were disciples of John the Baptist. As Jesus walks by, John the Baptist again declares who Jesus is. “Look, the Lamb of God!” What happened next? Those two disciples of John the Baptist left him and followed Jesus.
- Now, if John the Baptist were flesh-driven (like the Pharisees), he would’ve gotten all bulled up about “losing” one of his followers for someone else (talk about a social media nightmare). You see this in the church, unfortunately. Someone leaves a fellowship and the chatter revs its engine and causes commotion. We should constantly be pointing people to Christ and letting them “walk away” to follow Him more closely.
43 The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, “Follow me.”
44 Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida. 45 Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”
46 “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked.
“Come and see,” said Philip.
47 When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.”
48 “How do you know me?” Nathanael asked.
Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.”
49 Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel.”
50 Jesus said, “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You will see greater things than that.” 51 He then added, “Very truly I tell you, you will see ‘heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on’ the Son of Man.”
- This is yet another exciting portion of scripture. Verse 50 is one that I believe is worth underlining, circling, and highlighting in your Bible: “Jesus said, “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree…”
- Jesus saw Nathanael (Bartholomew) before Nathanael saw Jesus. Jesus saw you before you saw Him. He sees you. You are noticed. You are seen. What a deep and prolific comfort to know that before you even gave God a thought, He saw you.
- “Under the fig tree” could have been a literal meaning of Nathanael sitting under the shade of a fig tree. But, more likely, it was a phrase to describe meditation on the Scriptures. I hope you spend disciplined time “under the fig tree” this week, meditating on who God is, and how you can say to others, “Look, the Lamb of God!” Amen.