Born of God
So, just to recap the first half of the series, the major themes were;
- Christ’s eternal pre-existence,
- His role and relationship to the Father
- The universality of his significance
- He as the unquenchable, undefeatable source of life depicted in the metaphor of light.
- The role of everyday people in proclaiming this amazing event.
Now it’s time to move on with the second half which parallels verse 1. John now specifically speaks of the arrival of the Word made flesh into the physical world and its population which also came into being through him. In doing this, John once and for all nails down the fundamental bond between the Spiritual reality and the Physical reality. The event of Christmas in John is directly linked to actions and reactions of the human heart.
We started up in lofty, heavenly pre-existence on John’s textual roller-coaster and now we swoop down like a jet through the valleys of 1st century Palestine, looking down on the straw huts and rushing over the palm trees as the news spreads of the arrival of the source of life. We now switch to the ‘first person helmet cam’ and the screen splits into three as our microscopic camera comes to settle right into perspectives of various people. But the camera doesn’t stay there. It tunnels deep down into their hearts and we get a picture of what is going on in each. The reaction of the world on screen 1, the Jews on 2 and then on the third screen, those who acknowledged the Word.
Lets read it: John 1:10-13 10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to what was his own,1 and his own people did not accept him. 12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.
Screen 1 the reaction of the World.
When we think of account of the birth of Jesus in Matthew and Luke, it isn’t exactly Oscar night is it? Although John here is talking in hindsight about Jesus’ entire ministry, it can be said that the world of that time really did not recognise who Jesus was from the day of his birth. John 1:10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him.
Notice how John uses the word ‘world’ here three times in one sentence. It starts off referring to his presence in the physical world, then to creation and therefore ownership of this physical world. But then John twists the grammar of the sentence to hone in on the ‘world’ as the human race specifically.
This verse actually tells of the tragic history of humanity so far. It is the centrepiece of God’s creation, the only being created to have the ability to enter in relationship with God. Therefore a natural history would suggest humanity’s instant recognition of God but human history is distorted by the actions and reactions of sinful people and the consequences therein.
Screen 2; the heart of the Jews
Our dog Jet loves his home and his family which makes him a great watchdog. But you could imagine how surprised I would be if I came home, opened up the door only to have him jump up and bight me. It would just not be a natural thing to do for him. That’s what happened to Jesus. The Word came to his treasured possession and it reared and spat at him like a cobra.
John 1:11 11 He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him.
Much to the shock of the 1st century Jew with all the pride and knowledge of the patriarchs, the torah, the temple and so forth, John levels the unthinkable accusation of their rejection of God himself. John doesn’t seem to be weighed down by political correctness and social engineering; he tells it like it is! This acceptance and recognition that John is on about is far deeper than an intellectual assent, but describes precisely the activity (or lack thereof) in the Jewish heart.
In the end, despite all of the Jews’ knowledge, tradition and experiences of God fail to reveal the event of God becoming flesh to the eyes of their heart. I think there is an important lesson for the church today in there. It wasn’t the tradition itself that was a problem it was their reliance upon it. The risk with tradition is that it can make you feel too safe. We didn’t ‘sign up’ to be safe, but to respond to the mission and calling of God.
Screen 3, the Heart of the Disciple.
But the great thing about this section is that John now mutes the previous two tragedies by finishing with the process within the heart of a disciple in a theological dance between the inseparable partners of human free will and God’s election. John, more than anyone else intertwines the event of Christmas with God’s activity in the human heart.
I think this last section is summed up the best by Aussie scholar Leon Morris; “Grace knows no interruption and no limit. In contrast to the law, grace stresses the dynamic character of the Christian life. Law can be mastered. Anyone may know the requirements of the law but grace is always an adventure. No one can say where grace will lead, what blessing it will bring, or what challenge it will make. Grace means an ever deepening experience of the presence of the blessing of God.”
John 1:12-13 12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.
Notice that John specifically does not use the term ‘sons of God,’ but ‘children of God,’ to make a point. Firstly, while the New Testament as a whole portrays God as the father of all, it does not speak of all as the ‘children of God.’ But for John especially, people are his children specifically only as they respond to Christ’s saving work. Also in the 1st century world; the term ‘son of god,’ or ‘son of a god,’ or son of the gods’ was used to simply denote a good or pure person, while John’s whole argument in the previous sentences is that humanity is not good as expected. John therefore, again smashes and then redefines another first century concept.
John then states that there is something imparted here; John 1:12 he gave power to become children of God. It is not so much a changing of state as it a change of status. John’s expression is rooted in the distinction between God as the all controlling Spirit and the human person in their dependence. Obviously, being born of God does not cancel out the fact that at the same time a disciple is also physically human!
There is an amazing example of this in one of my favourite books; Song of Songs; Song of Solomon 1:4 4 Draw me after you, let us make haste. The king has brought me into his chambers. We will exult and rejoice in you; we will extol your love more than wine; rightly do they love you.
Song of Songs portrays ‘the beloved’ who goes from being simply one of the daughters of Jerusalem to the beloved of the King. But as part of that she is invited into his courts and partakes in everything that is his or to do with him, and I mean everything. In Christ the deity and humanity fuse together, all that is God’s becomes ours and all that is ours’ becomes God’s. He takes on our sin and suffering, while we have received his Spirit and eternal life.
And this entire thing is not as a result of our request, but God’s initiative; John 1:12-13 he gave power to become children of God, (who had the power to become children of God?) 13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.
The Old Testament event of Isaac’s birth is a key illustration of this concept. Isaac was not Abraham’s only son but he was unique. Isaac was the impossible birth to a 90 year old barren mother and an even older father. Isaac was literally not born of the will of man (that was Ishmael) but of the will of God. John asserts that to become children of God is a work wholly of God’s operation and contrasts the difference between human birth against spiritual birth.
Thus the physical, concrete arrival of God in the flesh, in a physical being more than anything else denotes the spiritual reality of the sovereignty of God’s grace and the critical connection therein. In short, it shows us that in the context of salvation, nothing happens by accident.
Since I have recognised this, I have determined not to let anything steal away my joy. I used to be convinced that God had well..chosen someone else, I used to look at texts like this and think “well that’s fine for those who it applies to, but what about me?” but over the last two years especially, I have gradually looked back over my life and the gifts and experiences that God has showered upon me has proved his love for me.
I believe that Satan loves to get into our heads and convince us of that same old lie that God doesn’t actually really care that much about us. It is at that point when we need to stop and think wait a second, where am I right now, how did I get here and maybe, if God cares so much about human existence to actually step over to the other side of the fence and participate in it then maybe he really cares about my life, maybe he really cares about your life.
If Christ came to give power to become children of God, then the event of Christmas is really what fills life with purpose.
Till next time…