Hi everyone, back in 2008, we did a Christmas series with a difference in the church I was in at the time. We looked at the Christmas story from the perspective of John’s Gospel. 8 years later it is still one of my favourite bible studies I’ve ever done and I thought it might be a cool idea to post all 6 parts over the next 25 day of advent.
The Cosmological Christmas Part 1
In the Beginning
As important as the narratives of Jesus’ birth in Matthew and Luke are, they have very little impact if we don’t take very seriously what is happening here in the spiritual realm as described in the Gospel of John. So, as we plough the depths over the next few weeks I want you to have that image of the baby in the manger in your mind. When you realise what is actually going on here, it blows your mind.
John 1:1-3 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being.
- What is the beginning?
This statement would have been a shock to people reading it in the ancient world. Obviously, in a Jewish context the phrase obviously echoes: Genesis 1:1-2: In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth,2 the earth was a formless void.
There is a belief that John’s gospel basically replaces the ‘Word’ where you would expect to find God in the ‘scene’ of creation. But hear the whole verse again; John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. There is no mention of earth’s creation, which is what makes it even more astonishing. Let me explain,
In the original grammar of this verse, the meaning of the word ‘beginning’ is drawn from what follows it; that is, the existence of God and the Word together.
This is not talking about the creation of planet earth; it extends the meaning of ‘beginning’ to a statement of the eternal pre-existence of the person of Christ! This is the most primordial point of time mentioned in the Bible.
Genesis speaks of the formless and dark chaos of the universe into which God speaks order. John speaks of the pre-existing harmony between these members of the trinity. To express this harmony, John uses a word that we translate as ‘with’. John 1:1b ‘The Word was with God’
This word is so important because it simultaneously expresses both distinction and yet intimacy between and God and the Word. The Father and the Son exist in a bond of love John 15:9 says: “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.” Likewise we use the word ‘with’ often in the context of love. You know, like; “I’m with her.”
This verse would be jolt to non-Jews or Gentiles as well. Nearly every Ancient religion had in common is that the seasons and natural phenomena are the direct result of the god’s constant and eternal conflict with each other. For example, the Greeks explained thunderstorms as Zeus and Hera arguing yet again! But God, accomplishes all things in perfect love and harmony through the Word.
- What/who is the Word
Have you ever wondered why John never simply says; in the beginning was Christ? In utilizing the existing Greek term ‘logos’ or ‘word’ to describe Christ, John achieves three things;
- He manages to identify the pre-incarnate second person of the trinity.
- He denotes the role of this second person in relation to the Father or ‘theos’
- He presents it in a way that again has universal significance in the ancient world.
(these last two are critically linked)
Lets look at the first achievement of John. The problem that John had was that when he wrote his gospel, all the terms of reference for this second person of the trinity referred to a thirty something Jewish carpenter turned teacher born in Bethlehem!
Even the word ‘Christ’ or ‘Christos’ is the Greek translation of the Hebrew term ‘Meshiach’ or ‘messiah’ which is commonly used in especially the prophetic literature of the Old Testament to refer to the physical saviour, you know, an actual descendant of David. Emmanuel; there’s another one, meaning God with…..us. They all implied Christ’s physical presence on earth.
John however wants to stress his preexistence, long before God became flesh. So, John utilises an Israelite tradition of personification. In the Old Testament, the will of God is concretely embodied in the Law, or Torah, and divine instruction as reflected in Proverbs. In due time this became identified with wisdom itself and so gained the theological and cosmological associations of wisdom and the word. This is reflected especially in Proverbs of which 1:20 20 Wisdom cries out in the street; in the squares she raises her voice.
John uses this concept but then goes way beyond it, presenting the person of the Logos not only a person who reveals God but as one who reveals himself as God.
In one sense God doesn’t change. But he also doesn’t fit neatly into our theological boxes we make for him either. The fact is, according to John, God, in another sense did experience change, he at some point dwelt in the flesh of a man, which, implies that at some point he didn’t. I’m going to be honest and say that is a big one to get your head around and there really is no ‘food dye and water illustration’ to explain it all which is I suppose where faith comes in
We’ll look at achievements 2 and 3 together because they’re linked. John’s use of the term ‘Logos’ came as a bolt of lightening out of the blue sky purely because of its implications.
Jews: In the Old Testament the prophets gave God’s word to the nation of Israel. This phrase occurs literally hundreds of times from Genesis 15:1; which says; After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision, “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” To Zechariah 12:1 which says; An Oracle. The word of the LORD concerning Israel: Thus says the LORD, who stretched out the heavens and founded the earth and formed the human spirit within.
God’s word convicts, comforts and most of all creates everything new. The Torah (first 5 books) was literally seen as God’s word to Israel. In identifying this ‘logos’ as God himself, John proclaims that whom he speaks of has fulfilled every previous manifestation of this ‘word’.
Meanwhile to the ancient Greek mind, John broke down, then redefined and reshaped in one sentence literally every major philosophical school of thought concerning this mysterious divine agent in that world. Let me give you some examples. (The names aren’t that important.)
- For the Heraclites the logos is the omnipresent wisdom by which all things were steered.
- For the Stoics the logos is the common law of nature and therefore the soul of the universe.
- For Philo, the logos is the agent of creation and the medium of divine government in the world.
- For the Gnostic, the logos is the redeemer who descended into the lower world in human form, giving human the knowledge that made it possible for man to follow him back up to the higher world.
- In Assyrian and Babylonian thought, the logos of the gods was a cosmic power in itself.
Humanity has from the dawn of time noticed that something must have ‘thought up’ this world. All of the above theories, whether Jewish or Pagan find their genesis in one universal truth; language, that is; the spoken word is finally that which reveals one’s thoughts. God speaks, he speaks to us, he speaks to us because he wants us, that is human beings to know what is on his mind and nowhere does he speak louder than the person of Christ.
As the word, he conveys in every facet of his life what the father thinks about, and the father thinks about restoration, recreation and reconciliation.
Jesus stands before lepers and says ‘Do you want to be healed,’ while his very presence is proof that the father wants to heal, the disciples said ‘lord show us the father’ and Jesus said ‘if you seen me you’ve already seen him’ and as those whom he formed in their respective mothers’ wombs drove the nails through his hands he said father forgive them.
God’s thinking is simultaneous with God’s acting, God’s word is God’s deed. God’s Word reveals what God wants, what he thinks about, what he longs for and who he is. That is why as the logos, Christ is mighty to save because a word is only as powerful as the one who spoke it. Our highest union with God is literally dependent on God’s manifestation as Logos.
This is really extending the implications of creation theology itself.
John 1:3 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being.
It is this verse that normally causes most to assume that Genesis 1 provides the chronological backdrop of this passage. But I think that critical to our understanding of John and indeed Christ himself is finding out exactly what the phrase ‘all things’ means in the New Testament and this is where Paul comes in.
Colossians 1:16-20 16 for in1 him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers — all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He himself is before all things, and in1 him all things hold together. 18 He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.
For now, this is a good place to finish up, because this is the good news in my opinion. We often make the mistake of thinking we’re bigger than we are, and knowing more than we do, but I wonder if we truly grasp what ‘all things’ means. We often look at the stars and think ‘wow’ God created all things; the planets, stars, galaxies, sunsets, artwork, poetry, music and each other.
But that’s only half of it. Because Paul says all things; you see its so much bigger and older than we know, Where do you think love came from? Where do think hope came from? Who gave birth to wisdom? Who invented friendship? Who made the angelic hosts that applauded at the foundations of the universe and how many where there? (Perhaps you hear God’s speech in job in the background.)
We have hope because all things are under the control of the logos, because all things were created in him; including Satan himself, who was an angel before he fell. And one day the Alpha and Omega will say to all things who refuse his lordship….time’s up. And to the faithful, he will say from eternity past and to eternity future; enter into your inheritance. Look and “See, I am making all things new.”
We live in an age desperate to drain everything of its deeper meaning. The event of Christmas reveals the passion of God, like a window is transparent in order to reveal what is opaque behind it. But we live in a society that wants nothing but windows behind windows. C.S. Lewis was ahead of his time when he pointed out that if everything is transparent, there is nothing to see.
What good news it is, that as you’re walking around a shopping centre this Christmas you can know, that the little baby in the manger is telling the world “there’s something more, something huge, that I want you to see.”