John 1: 4, 5, 9, 10, 14

Over the next three sermons – today, Christmas Eve, and Christmas morning – we’ll be looking at the birth of Jesus as presented by three of the four Gospel writers: John, Luke, and Matthew.

From John’s Gospel today we’ll address the question: who was this One that was born?  On Christmas Eve we’ll look at the circumstances of his birth from the Gospel of Luke.  Then, on Christmas Day, consider the wise men who came to worship him.      

Today’s talk will be less of a sermon and more of a commentary.  I hope it motivates you to go back to the text on your own…  And that might be necessary since this will be the most intellectually taxing of the three talks, and that’s only because John’s Gospel dives deep and often takes surprising turns.  

I invite you to turn to John 1.

The book begins with John presenting a figure, a Person, He calls “the Word.”  In listening to His presentation of the Word, we’re going to skip over the first couple of verses and start on vv. 4,5.  Then we’ll skip down to vv. 9,10.  And conclude with v. 14.  Hopefully on the way it’ll become clear why we’re highlighting these verses to help us understand who was this One born on Christmas morning? 

Verse 4: In Him [the Word] was life, and the life was the light of men.

In Him was life – This at least means that the Logos, the Word, is alive.  But certainly, that’s not all that’s being said.  

This small verse is a great example of the simple vocabulary John employs to speak of profound things.  “Life.”  “Light.”  Simple, right?  

“Life” is a simple word…but just try to define it.  It’s hard!  Basic things are hard to pin down.  The writer D.H. Lawrence once wrote, “Water is H2O – hydrogen two parts, oxygen one, but there is also a third thing, that makes it water, and nobody knows what it is.”  Life is kinda like that too.

We all understand life is – though not less than – much more than physical existence.  In fact, John uses a word here for “life” that he’ll use over and over in this Gospel that denotes something beyond mere physical existence.  

A dad threatens and ridicules and badgers and is sullen to his 8-year-old over a period of time, and we see something go out of that little boy – Life.  

A person who works on the assembly line sometimes complains – I feel like my life is draining away.  The old New Englander once observed: “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.”      

“Life” – to an extent we know it when we see it or feel it… or sense its lack.  But Life is ultimately defined by the Creator of life.  A man might be on an arc of success and expansion, he might feel exuberant before nature or beauty: but if God, who is after all the Judge, the Assigner of destinies, looks at his heart and knows it to be cut off from His life and blessing, alienated from its assigned purpose … what that successful, exuberant person actually needs is life.  

So, Life is a matter of biology, of soul, of psyche, but primarily of spirit before God.  And, John says, the Word is full of…all that.  

And importantly, only he distributes Life.  And even more, He is it.  Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”  “I am…the life.  No one comes [back] to the [Original] Father [Source, Spring] except through me.”   

We often turn to the world of entertainment, diversion, escapism – because we’re bored and searching for … For what?  For life, really.  It dawns on Christians, as they get older, that all this entertainment isn’t where life is found.  They get done with a movie and feel a little spent.  

The testimony of older Christians – ask Russell who turns 75 today –  is that they’ve been renewed in the Spirit of Jesus Christ.  As they look to God through Jesus – in the Word, in prayer, in learning theology, in the work of the Lord caring for His people – tthat’s where there was joy, renewal…Life!

V. 4b: The Life [that the Word contains] is the light of men

Light – again, a word that’s so basic and yet the mind struggles to fathom it.  The Life of the Word is the Light of men, John says.  

The Life in the Word enlightening humanity has been understood at least three different ways:

  • Light = Reason: It’s the Life-stuffed Word who is responsible for humanity’s unique ability out of the rest of the creation to reason: to find his way around farming, engineering, articulating, establishing statutes, admiring beauty, discerning, censoring that which destroys.  Exploration, progress, subduing nature and turning it to ends, is due to the Life of the Word.  There is no understanding not sourced in the Word“All candles are lighted at his torch.”    
  • Light = God-sense: Because of the life in the Word, all mankind is born with a certain faculty for perceiving God, for intuiting that there is an invisible world behind ours.  
  • Light = Salvation/revelation: To the extent that a person is enlightened by the Word, He comes into Life… because the Life from the Word enables man to perceive God truly, and to know God truly is Life. 

I don’t think we have to choose between these various interpretations of what is meant by light.  John is claiming that it’s the Word who makes intelligible all the stuff of all the levels of life.  From changing out the timing belts to knowing the ineffable name of God – all the lightto rightly perceive all the life emanates from this Word who is stuffed with Life.  

Light and Life.  Light and life.  Without the Word is unbeing – no life…and no light – ignorance.  

I remember when I was selling milk, I happened to ask a colleague how he was doing and he said, “I’m just trying to survive this life.”  Then he opened up to me about his recent financial disaster.  Later I texted him a verse about going to Jesus when you’re burdened.  He didn’t reply; very likely he saw this as a religious gesture.  

But this isn’t how John frames things:  Looking to the Word you’re looking to life and light.  In other words, you’re scraping the bottom of reality.  The essence.  You’re not really making a religious move; you’re not doing anything unnatural.  Brothers and sisters, there is some elemental thing being discussed here that applies to everything, everyone.  

Do you have to use the bathroom a lot at night? – you need the life stuffed Word.  Are you trying to make sales, go to school, buy Christmas gifts? – you need the life stuffed Word.  Attacked by darkness and demons? – look to the Logos.  Coming up to a big decision? – the Word!  Malnourished in some part of your soul that presents in restlessness, vague lusts, wanting to spend money?… Are you a human being?…

Brother and sisters: there is the Word, a carrier of Life who is ancient, with God, God, Creator of the elk and Seraph and imagination and smells and ovaries and the color violet. The Word: who has something to explain to you, and maybe you’ll find it exciting or boring, but it’s the stuff of life.

Hallelujah that this morning we have in our sights the One by whom all things consist, who in Him are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge!    

V. 5: The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.  

The Logos, the Old Companion of God, the God, the Creator, the Stuffed-with-Life keeps confronting (the verse is present tense) the darkness.  Shines on and on.  

At the beginning, at the Creation the Word confronted the darkness of un-being, of chaos, of Tohu Wabohu.

And, again and again, as one commentator says, the Word challenges the darkness that is found, tragically, with creation itself.  The Word is bringing into being the new creation, in which God says once more, ‘Let there be light!’”  

John’s gospel, really all of Scripture, is a chronicle of darkness, thick darkness, complex darkness, demonic darkness – threatening, looming, surrounding, …and yet the Light keeps breaking through.  

The history of the world can be boiled down to two phenomena: 1) The light of the Life filled Word shines, even as 2) the darkness attempts to extinguish it.  

And what is the darkness that wants to extinguish the light?  The darkness is the ignorance and annoyance or even the hostility of the world.  The devouring Satan.  Our own mistaken instincts.  The world, the devil, and the flesh. 

And yet, despite this three-headed monster, the reality of darkness out there and in here {pointing at heart}, brothers and sisters, the Word keeps shining.  Today Africans and Iranians and Guatemalans and Syrians and New Yorkers and Amazonians and Germans and we ourselves come together to celebrate the light and life of Christmas.  The light and life of Jesus Christ, the Word.    

As G. K. Chesterton said: At least five times… with the Arian and the Albigensian, with the Humanist sceptic, after Voltaire and after Darwin, the Faith has to all appearance gone to the dogs. In each of these five cases it was the dog that died.

Hallelujah for the victory of the Word over darkness!  

So, big picture, the Word keeps shining, yes.  But in the small picture, boy, there’s been a lot of resistance.  And that, from the very start.  Let’s go down a couple of verses:

VV. 9, 10: The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.  He was in the world, and the world was made through him, [so far that’s review] yet the world did not know him.  He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.  

Toward the start of his letter there’s what might be considered a surprising admission by John:  For the most part, when the Light came into the world, it was unwelcomed and even appeared to have failed.  

The Word was largely, even generally, resisted, or at least ignored.  That was true even in Israel, the people who for some 1500 years had been taught the teaching of God, who had had the light of revelation, who had been trained in thinking in a God-ward way.  

Let’s pan out for just a second: John’s Gospel is written so that people might believe.  One of its techniques toward belief is to assert that most people don’t believe, even those who have been best set up to believe (so, by the way, if you’re into following the crowd you likely won’t find Life).  

And another technique to lead his readers to believe is to show the various ways that people came to not believe.  Read through John and note the various ways people didn’t believe Jesus.  It’s a valuable study, maybe one to pursue during the month of January.  

One example in John 7: 40ff:

When they heard these words, some of the people said, “This really is the Prophet.” Other said, “This is the Christ.”  But some said, “Is the Christ to come from Galilee?  Has not the Scripture said that the Christ comes from the offspring of David, and comes from Bethlehem, the village where David was?”  So there was a division among the people over him.”

Here are people dismissing the possibility of Jesus being the Christ, since he didn’t come from Bethlehem.  Well, we know that, of course, He did come from Bethlehem, He was born there.  We even made a song about it!  But back in the day this fact wasn’t obvious, and it was going to take a little work to dig up this vital bit of information, and some folks didn’t care to put in the effort.  

Here is unbelief through apathy, laziness.  Laziness, smugness, superficial opinion – this is the stuff of darkness.  Why people don’t believe.  But there’s plenty of other reasons too – do the study!  

Takeaway point: the Word is life and light, elemental and essential.  But there was and will ever be a lot – a lot! – of unbelief about something that is, in a way, so basic.  Don’t ever slip into the assumption that well, of course, if something is important everyone realizes that it is!  We just need to follow the crowd…

We’ll conclude with v. 14, and this might be the toughest verse to comprehend, but we’ll give it a go: 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.

The ancient Companion of God, the ancient God, the Creator of all that has been created, the Light of Humanity, the One stuffed with life – – becomes flesh – the word John chooses is curious.  Not man or just like us – but flesh, a word that commonly communicates the weakness and impermanence of the creation. 

And, John says, in the Word becoming flesh we have seen His glory.  But listen carefully: he explains what he means by glory.  And it’s not the glory of obvious majesty or physical beauty or massive accomplishment.  But this: Glory as of the only Son from the Father.  

The glory that was on display, John says, is the resplendency of a relationship between the Father and the only Son.  The glory of the Word, the great good thing we saw when the word became flesh, is the glory of this eternal Father-Son relationship.  

“What was expressed in human terms here below was not bare deity; it was divine Sonship.”  (Austin Farrer).  

Through Jesus, the Word becoming flesh, the world comes to know God as He’s never been revealed.  And when we meet God most fully in Jesus, we meet God as a Son beloved by the Father in the camaraderie of the Spirit.  Even though the Old Testament hinted at this, when the Word become flesh it becomes clear: we meet a Fellowship of Persons, a Trinity who have existed forever in perfect love between them.  

And so, throughout John’s Gospel, we don’t just see Jesus as God [full stop], we see Jesus as a Son relating to – always speaking to, referring to, self-consciously living in the light of – His Heavenly Father.  

This relationship is the essence of all the Word is.  The life and light of the Word flow from this: He is in relationship to the Father.  John says, seeing that relationship was glorious; it’s what really took our breath away!  There’s something here…Life!  Light!  This relationship is what the darkness was trying to smother!  This Son-Father relationship, man, is so constant and honest and encouraging and helpful and cohesive and … –  –  – GLORIOUS!  

Finally, John says the glory that was on display was full of grace and truth.  

The glory of the only Son with the Father was full of grace and truth.

Please don’t let this phrase register in your mind as anything trite, like it was really encouraging OR how inspiring we found it all to be.  

No, no!  Grace and truth is the Hellenized way of expressing the great Old Testament phrase that is translated from the Hebrew hesed and emet as steadfast love and faithfulness.  

And this steadfast love and faithfulness in the OT almost invariably had a very specific referent: to God’s covenant: the covenant alluded to in Eden, established with Abraham, running through the history of Israel.  The covenant that was the avenue by which God would save the world from death.    

To repeat: when the OT saints spoke of God’s steadfast love and faithfulness – the Greek phrase being grace and truth – they weren’t just referring to vague ideas of God’s goodness.  They meant that no matter how dark or weird things got, God was indeed working out His salvation along a particular route.  And that was the way of the covenant.  The way so saturated with it, that it came to be called: steadfast love and faithfulness.  

So, see if you can follow the logic of this verse: John says, when the Word became flesh, we saw the glory of this Father-Son relationship, and that glorious fellowship was nothing less than the steadfast love and faithfulness of God’s saving covenant with humanity reaching its culmination: full of grace and truth.  

How so?  

When the Word becomes flesh, when the Eternal Son is made man, there’s NOT, consequently, a break between Him and the Father.  Even as a Man, He’s still the Eternal Son in fellowship with his Father. 

And as a representative Man, the second Adam, Jesus takes those that receive Him into that eternal fellowship of Father and Son.  And – here’s the point – that fellowship lies at the heart of God’s making everything in the cosmos right.  This Son relating to His Father even in the weakness of human flesh is the great culmination of the covenant being worked out over thousands of years.  

And to those who press into the Son by faith, who receive Him notwithstanding the strong current of unbelief all around?  Who despite the confusing darkness perceive reality by means of Jesus, the Light of the world?  Who in defiance of all the doctrines and dealers of death hold on to Jesus for dear life, because He is life?  

Here’s their end, which is the goal of all of God’s dealings with man, according to Revelation 21:7: The one who conquers will have this heritage: I will be his God and he will be my Son.


Jesus, the Word, is Life.  Jesus is the Light by which humans perceive what is vital.  Jesus is the Son of the Father.  He brings people into relationship with the Father.  And that relationship with the Father is what God had been working toward since the Garden of Eden.  Since sin and death and judgment came into the world.  

Life and Light and the Reconciler to God came down at Christmas.  He has accomplished His work and returned to the Father.  My challenge to you today: Rejoice in Jesus Christ.  

You might be saying, yeah, that’s nice, and rejoice, but the main thing is that my children aren’t behaving properly…or I’m facing a lot of debt…or my health is declining or look at the government’s shenanigans or  …. 

Once I get past this stage I’ll really put my heart into being grateful…rejoicing in Christ. 

NO.  Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.  Set your worries aside and give yourself the permission to – because God has ordered you to – rejoice in Christ – the Life, the Light, the Reconciler to God – today.  

Find out what prevents you from rejoicing in Christ – have you fallen into the entertainment trap?  Are you eating too much sugar and it’s making you sluggish?  Have you become stuck in your understanding about Christ, and it’s all seeming a little boring?  Are you obsessed with keeping up with news of the nation, of the culture wars and a low-grade anger is eating away at your rejoicing?  

Put your finger on what keeps you from being thrilled and energized by Jesus Christ, and start working on a course correction.  Because Jesus is life, and He has brought you into life.  He is light, and the light will overcome the darkness.  He is the reconciler to God – to God the Creator of forest and human artistry and memory – and you have the privilege of coming into the oldest fraternity of them all – the warm, active, energizing fellowship of the Trinity.  Don’t settle for a Netflix saturated existence.  Don’t settle for being addled by worry.  Rejoice!  

One thought on “John 1: 4, 5, 9, 10, 14

Add yours

  1. James C. Landry says:

    Excellent, Colin!

Leave a Reply

Powered by

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: