Bloor Lansdowne Christian Fellowship – BLCF Church Message for Sunday:
‘The Word by Name is Jesus Christ’ © July 14, 2013 by Steve Mickelson
Let us pray…
To begin this morning’s lesson, I would like to repeat the verses 1 and 14 from Chapter 1 of John 1:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
We read in this short passage, consisting of only two relatively short verses, John using the proper pronoun ‘Word’ no less than four times. Or should I say more precisely ‘the Word’. The Word was there in the beginning, that is to say, existing at the time of Creation. And the Word was there with God, the Creator of everything. That is because the Word was God. Then the Word became flesh and dwelt among us as the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
Sounds a little like the Game of Jeopardy, where the players are given an answer and must phrase a question to match the corresponding question. In this case, our question might be phrased as: “Who was Jesus Christ?”
Yet, there are many people, including many Christians, who would incorrectly attempt to match with the definition of the Word, the question: “What is the Bible?”
When you stop and think about it, it seems quite silly to imagine that a Book, inspired by God, created for man just happened to be there, existing before Creation. That the Word is God was really the Scriptures or Bible, we must then view Godhead Trinity as a quartet of sorts: Father, Son, Holy Spirit and Bible. And finally, if “the Word became flesh” meant the Bible, then we have a description of a sort of ‘Illustrated Man of Scriptures’, to dwell amongst us, which is really twisting God’s message.
I believe that it is safe to conclude that the Word in John Chapter 1 does not refer to the Holy Scriptures. Besides, we need the presence of the Holy Spirit, to admonish and to convict us of the truth of the Scriptures, not vice versa. And this conviction will only happen after we have accepted Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour, with the help of the Holy Spirit.
What we can say about the John 1 passage is that Jesus, not the Bible, existed in another form at the time of the creation, and before the creation. And that the Word is part of the Holy Trinity, who was with and is God. It was later, that the Word took the form of human flesh, as Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who ministered to us, fulfilled the prophecies of the Old Testament, ultimately becoming a living sacrifice for all of humanity on the Cross and after ascending to Heaven sent a comforter to all who believe in the form of the Holy Spirit. The Bible did not send us the Holy Spirit.
By contrast, we have the Scriptures, or the Bible, as the inspired word (spelt with a lower case w) of God. So let us see what our Wiki bits, from the Wikipedia, say about the Greek word Logos, which we translate in English as the Word:
The Old Testament has given an essential contribution to the New Testament christological message for Christ as Logos, translated as the Word. The Word is with God from the beginning (Gen 1:1 John 1:1), powerfully creative (Gen 1:1-2:4 Isa 55:10-11 Ps 33:6,9;107:20 Judith 16:14) and God’s personified self-expression. Like wisdom, the word expresses God’s active power and self-revelation in the created world. Solomon‘s prayer for wisdom takes word and wisdom as synonymous Even so, John’s prologue does not open by saying: “In the beginning was Wisdom, and Wisdom was with God, and Wisdom was God” (cf. John 1:1).
Despite the fact that, in the literature of pre-Christian Judaism, wisdom, word, and, for that matter, spirit were “near alternatives as ways of describing the active, immanent power of God”, there are several considerations to understand why John chose word and not wisdom. First, given that sophia (Greek for wisdom) was personified as Lady Wisdom (e.g., Prov 1:20-33;8:1-9:6 Wis 8:2), it could have seemed awkward to speak of this female figure “being made flesh” when Jesus was male. Second, in Hellenistic Judaism the law of Moses had been identified with wisdom (Sir 24:23 Bar 4:1-4) and credited with many of her characteristics. To announce then that “Wisdom was God and was made flesh” could have been felt to suggest that “the Torah was God and was made flesh”. Within a few years Christians were to identify the Son of God and Logos with law or the law, but, neither John nor any other New Testament authors identified Christ with the Torah. Third, Paul, Luke (especially in Acts of the Apostles), and other New Testament witnesses prepared the way for John’s prologue by their use of logos for God’s revelation through Christ.
Both in New Testament times and later, the Johannine “Word” offered rich christological possibilities. First the possibility of identification and distinction. On the one hand, words proceed from a speaker; being a kind of an extension of the speaker, they are, in a certain sense, identical with the speaker (“the Word was God”). On the other hand, a word is distinct from one who utters it (“the Word was with God”). Therefore, Christ was/is identified with, yet distinct from, YHWH. Second, God has been uttering the divine Word always (“in/from the beginning”); the Word “was” (not “came to be”) God. In this context “Word” opens up reflection on the personal, eternal pre-existence of the Logos-Son. God has never been without the Word.
- 1. ^ The N.T. uses various strands from O.T. accounts of “wisdom” and uses them for Jesus: first, like wisdom, Christ pre-existed all things and dwelt with God John 1:1-2); second, the lyric language about wisdom being the breath of the divine power, reflecting divine glory, mirroring light, and being an image of God, appears to be echoed by 1 Corinthians 1:17-18, 24-5 (verses which associate divine wisdom with power), by Hebrew 1:3 (“he is the radiance of God’s glory”), John 1:9 (“the true light that gives light to everyone”), and Colossians 1:15 (“the image of the invisible God”). Third, the N.T. applies to Christ the language about wisdom’s cosmic significance as God’s agent in the creation of the world: “all things were made through him, and without him nothing was made that was made” (John 1:3; see Col 1:16 Heb 1:2). Fourth, faced with Christ’s crucifixion, Paul vividly transforms the notion of divine wisdom’s inaccessibility (1 Cor. 1:17-2:13). “The wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1:21) is not only “secret and hidden” (1 Cor. 2:7) but also, defined by the cross and its proclamation, downright folly to the wise of this world (1 Cor. 1:18-25; see also Matt 11:25-7). Fifth, through his parables and other ways, Christ teaches wisdom (Matt 25:1-12 Luke 16:1-18, cf. also Matt 11:25-30). He is ‘greater’ than Solomon, the O.T. wise person and teacher par excellence (Matt 12:42). Sixth, the N.T. does not, however, seem to have applied to Christ the themes of Lady Wisdom and her radiant beauty. Pope Leo the Great (d. 461), however, recalled Proverbs 9:1 by picturing the unborn Jesus in Mary’s womb as “Wisdom building a house for herself” (Epistolae, 31. 2-3). There is, at any rate, a marked preference in N.T. for Logos as spoken word or rational utterance, despite the availability of this wisdom language and conceptuality, and John prefers to speak of “the Word” (John 1:1,14; cf. 1 John 1:1, Rev 19:13), a term that offers a rich complexity of meanings.
- 2. ^ It is important to differentiate between the meaning and translation of Logos, as rendered by the various traditions and texts. This will be emphasized further in this section, following the studies of G. O’Collins, Christology: A Biblical, Historical, and Systematic Study of Jesus, OUP (1995), pp. 24-41; J.D.G. Dunn, Christology in the Making, SCM Press (1989), pp. 196-207, 230-9.
- 3. ^ J.D.G. Dunn, Christology in the Making, cit., p. 196.
- 4. ^ At least in one place (Isa 2:3) ‘word’ is associated with Torah.
- 5. ^ Cf. Shepherd of Hermas, Similitudines, 8. 3. 2; St Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, 43. 1 and see 11. 2.
- 6. ^ The closest approach to such an identification is found in Gal 6:2 (‘the law of Christ’) and Rom 10:4 (if one adopts the more ‘positive’ translation, ‘Christ is the goal of the law’). For N.T. authors, Jesus replaces Torah and its attributes. Torah had been described in terms of light (Ps 119:105 Prov 6:23) and life (Ps 119:93 Prov 4:4,13). Now Jesus, especially in Johannine language, is the light of the world and the life of the world.
- 7. ^ As Dunn, op. cit. pp. 230-9, rightly argues, the background for John’s choice of ‘word’ is also to be found in the earlier books of the N.T. and not just in the O.T., or other sources such as Philo, et al.; cf. also A. T. Lincoln, The Gospel According to St John, Continuum (2005), pp.94-8.
- 8. ^ a b c Cf. G. O’Collins, Christology: A Biblical, Historical, and Systematic Study of Jesus, cit., pp. 24-41
By definition, then the Word, like wisdom, expresses God’s active power and self-revelation in the created world. And to obtain wisdom and understanding in the Scriptures, we need the help of God, the Holy Spirit.
Still many people have the misguided impression that the Scriptures are the Word and therefore must be revered or worship. It is almost as if the Bible is worshiped by itself, which could be viewed as idolatry. Without faith and the Holy Spirit, the message in the Bible which is the gospel of Jesus Christ is meaningless to non-believers in the resurrected Christ. The verses which support this statement (and some people, again, mistakenly believe refer to the word of Scriptures instead of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh are:
1 Corinthians 1:18 (ESV) Christ the Wisdom and Power of God
18 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
1 Corinthians 2:14 (ESV)
14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.
The world is filled with many who, through memorization, can recite Scriptures, but who as non-believers lack the understanding or discernment, provided by the Holy Spirit, to appreciate the Gospel message of Salvation or anything else that is of the Spirit of God.
While you recall from recent sermons, it was discussed how Satan distorts and twists the words of God, as he did to Adam and Eve in the garden promoting a desire to be on the same level of God. Sin was passed on to their descendants, which manifested in their son, a jealousy so strong that it led to Cain killing his brother, Abel.
But, Satan is not satisfied with destroying the faith and trust of non-believers. The devil seeks to destroy churches by creating dissention amongst the body of believers, as demonstrated by the zealots who follow the King James Only, treating one English translation of the original Greek and Hebrew Scriptures as the only true Word of God. Anything after King James is considered by this group to be heresy or the work of the devil. Sound familiar? You may recall that how the Pharisees used the Scriptures to promote their agenda and challenge Jesus, who after all being the Word made flesh is God.
There are many intelligent reasons why we need to have the Bible translated into other languages, including modern English, it goes back to that Tower of Babel that we discussed a few Sunday’s ago. Regardless of the language, the translation is foolishness to those who do not have the Holy Spirit to understand them. And considering Jesus’ Commandments to love God and love our neighbor, any theology that renders discord and division among the members of the body of Christ’s Church cannot be of the Spirit. By its very nature: to promote one group of people superior over others sounds very much like the temptation of the Garden of Eden all over again. The negative emotions it generates is like what Cain felt as described in Genesis 4, where God warned Cain that sin is crouching at the door:
Genesis 4:6-7 (ESV)
6 The Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? 7 If you do well, will you not be accepted?And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.”
The devil loves to see Christians preoccupied with precious time in debate and dissention instead of building the church body. But like the lesson of the Goats and Sheep in Matthew 25:31-46, we will be judged by how we behave to others. That is why we use Matthew 25 as the Mission Statement for our BLCF Cafe Community Dinner.
Those of you who have attended Bloor Lansdowne Christian Fellowship for the last few years may recall such a zealot proponent of the King James Only disrupting sermons of Pastor Andrew, Pastor Don and me over the last couple of years by interrupting the message in an attempt to launch a debate with the speaker regarding his KJO campaign. Fortunately, by the Grace of the Spirit, the speakers were not drawn into transforming a service intended to worship and praise God into something that does neither. Our KJO friend attempted again to initiate a debate at the end of my message at last Wednesday’s Community Dinner. Realizing that a debate draws me from serving the Lord at the BLCF Cafe, I disengaged from Mr. KJO who wanted to disrupt Terry’s ministry in music. But what does the Bible say about those who focus on debating theology over actions that help demonstrate the love and compassion of the Lord?
James 1:22-27 (ESV)
22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. 24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. 25 But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.
26 If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. 27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.
It is not surprising to find Satan attacking the body of believers in Christ’s own Church. The Apostle Luke gives warning in Acts 20:28-31 (ESV):
28 Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. 29 I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. 31 Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears.
But the danger is not only from such fringe groups, who seem happier with destroying God’s Church, rather than doing something constructive. The danger lies in the fact that members of these groups and those whom they draw into their debates are both body of the Church, which has Christ at its head. This brings us to the lesson taught by the Parable of the Two Sons, Matthew 21:23-32 (ESV):
The Authority of Jesus Challenged
23 And when he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came up to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” 24 Jesus answered them, “I also will ask you one question, and if you tell me the answer, then I also will tell you by what authority I do these things. 25 The baptism of John, from where did it come? From heaven or from man?” And they discussed it among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ 26 But if we say, ‘From man,’ we are afraid of the crowd, for they all hold that John was a prophet.” 27 So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.
The Parable of the Two Sons
28 “What do you think? A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ 29 And he answered, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he changed his mind and went. 30 And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go. 31 Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you. 32 For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him.
The lesson of this parable is that tax collectors and prostitutes who are judged by the chief priests and elders as sinners will go to the kingdom of God because they have believed. And the self righteous chief priest and elders will not because they lack the conviction of faith to back their words.
The final bit of advice, comes from the epistle which scholars generally believe to have been authored by the Apostle Paul, who changed from a persecutor of Christians to convert to be as Christ’s Apostle, one of the greatest proponents of Christianity, found in Colossians 2:16-22 (ESV):
Let No One Disqualify You
16 Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. 17 These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. 18 Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions,puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, 19 and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.
20 If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— 21 “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” 22 (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings?
As born-again believers in the resurrected Christ we must turn away from old beliefs and habits that do not glorify God or edify the body of believers. If we do find some aspects of our Christian walk that is not in line with Christ’s Commandments, like the Son who said that he would not work for his father and then changed his mind, we too can change by the grace of our heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ and with the help of the Holy Spirit.
Let us pray…
Hymn #240: Marvelous Grace of Our Loving Lord
Benediction (2 Corinthians 13:14):
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.