Monday, January 05, 2015
"Birth by Light" Sermon: John 1:6-13
“Birth by Light”
January 4, 2015 Second Reformed Church
Let us remember why John wrote his gospel: “but these [things] are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31, ESV). Everything that John wrote ought to lead us to conclude that Jesus is the Christ – the Savior – the Messiah, the Son of God – One of the Three Persons of the Trinity, and, if we believe in Him – in His Gospel – in the work that He did on earth, we will have life in His Name – we will be cleansed and forgiven and made righteous – having received salvation from the Wrath of God, and find ourselves welcomed into the Kingdom of God.
Last week, we saw that John began by pointing us to the Trinity: that there is One God, and God exists in Three Persons. The Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God, but there is Only One God.
We saw that God spoke the Creation into being, the Son is God’s Word in the flesh, and the Holy Spirit superintended over and completes God’s work. The Son is also the Life of every human, and He is the Light, through whom all those who will believe receive salvation.
John continues to talk about Jesus – the Incarnate Son of God – as the Light in this morning’s text:
“There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.”
John tells us that God sent John the Baptist as a witness to the Light – as a forerunner of the Light – as the one who would prepare the way for the Light – as the one who would get the people ready and alert them to the fact that the Light had come among them.
A few weeks ago, we looked at the person of John the Baptist. We saw that he was the last prophet of the Old Testament – one who came – as the fulfillment of prophecy – in the spirit and power of Elijah – to prepare the Jews – in particular – to repent of their sins and look for the coming of the Promised Savior.
John tells us that John the Baptist came as a witness to the Light – to direct people to the Light – that they might come to know Him and believe on Him and receive salvation through Him.
And he is an example for all Christians – what is our primary work on earth? To witness to the Light – to witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We are to be pointing to Jesus – not to ourselves.
We like people to like us – I like people to like me – but of first importance in our dealings with others is that we point them to Jesus. Yes, we can have friends – even close friends – but have they been shown Jesus through us? Have they been told that there is only salvation through Him Alone?
We are to be like those pointer dogs who point to what their humans are looking for – what their humans want and need. Yes, enjoy people and engage people and have fun with people, but also – first and foremost – have you seen Jesus? Do you know the Savior? Have you believed on the Good News of Jesus Christ?
“Oh, yes, we had a wonderful time and lunch, we got so much done that morning, and I heard about him, oh what trouble he’s gotten himself into, my the salad was good – Jesus!”
The first thing we see, this morning, then, is that Christians point to Jesus and His Gospel.
“The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.”
Second, we see that God the Son – the Light – incarnate – became human, and His coming into the world effects everyone.
This was prophesied by the prophet, Isaiah:
“[The Lord] says: ‘It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth’” (Isaiah 49:6, ESV).
And we might scratch our heads about this, because we have said that when Jesus – the Incarnate Son of God – is called the Light, we are talking about His enlightening people to salvation through Him – we are talking about the work of salvation – salvation from the darkness of being lost in sin. If that is so, how can John the Baptist say that Jesus is the True Light, “[who] gives light to everyone”?
If Jesus being the Light is referring to bringing people out of darkness into a right state with God – forgiven and holy before God – how can we say that everyone receives the Light?
There are two ways we may understand this – and it may be well to understand it to mean both of these ways:
We can understand John to be saying that the True Light gives light to everyone who will believe. In that way, we can understand John to be saying that Jesus – the Light – came into the world to enlighten all those who will believe to salvation – which is true.
We can also understand John to be saying that the True Light gives light to everyone – and His Light affects everyone in one of two ways: people are either drawn to the light in faith and belief, or people are repulsed by the light and re-embrace the darkness they are in – which is also true.
Jesus said, “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters” (Matthew 12:30, ESV).
One of my college professors used this verse as an example of a logical fallacy. The professor said that Jesus was wrong – there was a third option – someone could have nothing to do with Him. And I politely explained, “No, no, no – if anyone else had said this, it would be a logical fallacy, but Jesus doesn’t give the option to have nothing to do with Him. Every human who has ever lived and will ever live is either for Jesus or against Him – He does not give us the option of another choice.”
That’s why Jesus continues by saying, “Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come” (Matthew 12:31-32, ESV).
God the Holy Spirit applies the Gospel – the Light – of Jesus to every person – and those who believe will be forgiven and brought into the Kingdom of God, but those who do not believe – those who blaspheme the Holy Spirit and deny the Gospel of Jesus – they will never, ever be forgiven, but will suffer eternal Hell.
So there are only two possible responses to the Gospel – ultimately – “yes, I receive the Light and the forgiveness and righteousness merited by Jesus” – or – “no, I would rather stay in the darkness with my sin and face God on my own sin-laden merits.”
Thus, the Light – and His coming into the world – affects everyone – either to the joy of their salvation – or to their everlasting damnation.
The next section makes it clear that not everyone receives the Light to the joy of their salvation:
“He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.”
Third, the world did not receive the Light.
And, again, we need to understand that John is not saying that no one received Him, but that the horrifying fact is that there are many who did not and do not receive Him. Even though He is their Creator – which is everyone – even though He had called them to be a people for Himself – and that would be the biological descendants of Abraham – Israel – many people reject Him to their everlasting horror.
Again, Isaiah quotes God, “The ox knows its owner, and the donkey its master's crib, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand” (Isaiah 1:3, ESV).
Do we understand?
The dumb animals know who their lord and master is. The dumb animals know where their home is. But the people that God chose out of all nations and gave the Law and the Prophets and the Promises of the Savior – many don’t recognize Him – and many people in general – though they were created by God through the Son and have the Image of God in them – they don’t recognize Him.
Consider if your parents – your biological creators – came to you and said, “My son, my daughter, I want you to come home. All is forgiven. I have made a place for you. I have paid all your debts and made everything right so we can be the family we were created to be. Will you come home?” And you said, “You crazy old man – you crazy old woman! I don’t need you. I am happy with no family. With debts so great I could never pay them. With warrants for my arrest, and people seeking to take my life. I can do what I want – why would I ever want to leave this great life to go with some strangers?”
Can we imagine the heart-break and the anger our parents would have? That is nothing compared with the rejection of the Gospel – with blaspheming the Holy Spirit by not receiving Jesus and His salvation.
But it’s even worse than that, is it not?
Paul writes, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1, ESV).
In our rebellion and sin against God – every human being has gouged out his eyes, punctured his ears, cut off his tongue, and committed suicide of the spirit – so we are absolutely dead and unable to do anything but say “no” to God by our non-acceptance of the Gospel – of the Light that has come into the world.
Yet, John continues: “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God,”
And here’s the good news – all those who receive the Light – all those who believe savingly in the Name of Jesus – all those who receive the Gospel – Jesus gives the right – not “the legal opportunity,” but “the fitness” – He makes us able and worthy – to become the children of God – the adopted sons and daughters of God – co-heirs with Jesus of the Kingdom – inheritors with Jesus of the restored earth.
“Wait a minute,” some of you are thinking, “if we are completely dead and unable spiritually and desiring to remain in sin and darkness, how are we able to receive the Light?”
John explains that, fourth, our birth by Light is a gift of God’s Grace:
“who were born, not of blood”
Some of the Jews had pridefully claimed, “we are the children of Abraham” – “we are the biological descendants of Abraham” – “the promises are ours – the Savior is ours.” But Jesus said, “And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham” (Matthew 3:9, ESV).
Our birth by Light – our salvation – our spiritual resurrection – has nothing to do with our biological pedigree. Your parents may have built a church. You may have gone to church your whole life. You may be the forty-seventh generation of pastors. You may be of the biological line of Abraham. That doesn’t save you. That does not give you spiritual life.
There is no privilege to be saved through our biology – through our genealogy.
“nor of the will of the flesh”
Have you ever known someone who was stubborn? Someone who by sheer force of will tries to make things the way he wants them? (I have seen such a person in my bathroom mirror.)
John is telling us that we can’t stubborn ourselves to spiritual life. We cannot command our dead spiritual selves to life.
Just go into any funeral home and walk up to the body and say, “If you really wanted to, you would will yourself back to life and get out of this coffin.” Nothing is going to happen. Dead people can’t do anything – spiritually dead people cannot will themselves – no matter how stubbornly – to life.
“nor of the will of man,”
Nor can we intellectually raise ourselves from spiritual death.
We can read the Bible and know everything it says and acknowledge that it makes perfect sense and still be dead. Knowing that the Gospel is true does not make us come to life. That is why we can be the best apologist in the world – we can be the best defender of the Bible and all it teaches – we can argue the Gospel with absolutely clear conviction that no one could possibly argue against, and yet, people will not believe. That is why people can sit under the right preaching of the Word of God their whole lives and hear the Gospel preached clearly their whole lives and never believe savingly in the Gospel.
We can understand and assent with our minds to the truth of the Gospel, but if our hearts are still dead, we are still dead. And we cannot raise our hearts – spiritually – to life.
So, John tells us we can’t be born of the Light just by being born in the right family. We can’t be born of the Light by sheer stubborn will. We can’t be born of the Light by intellectual argument and assent.
“but of God.”
Our birth by Light – our salvation – is a gracious Gift of God.
Paul writes, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:4-10, ESV).
Nothing we are or do saves us – nothing we are or do gives us spiritual life.
Our birth by Light – our reception of Jesus and His Gospel – our salvation is completely a gift of God which He graciously gives as He wills and as it pleases Him, by grace alone, through faith alone, through Jesus Christ Alone.
We are born by Light – we are born of God – we are saved by God – Alone. God chose from before the foundations of the earth to save a people for Himself – and God is at work in doing that. God has chosen to be our Father – by adopting us as His children – not based on who we are or what we want or what we think we understand, but by His choice, as it pleased Him, to accomplish His purposes – to glorify Himself.
God the Father breathes spiritual life into us through God the Spirit that we would receive and believe the Gospel through Jesus. Salvation is God’s work alone.
That’s why John in his first epistle cries out:
“See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure” (1 John 3:1-3, ESV).
The joy of salvation – of our new birth – is found in the fact that God does not raise us from the dead because of who we are, but because of Who He is. He raises us as He wills because it pleases Him to raise those He chose before the Creation.
Now, we might be tempted to conclude that if salvation is all the work of God, then it doesn’t matter what we do – not so.
“Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God's word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone's conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake. For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
“But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.
“Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, ‘I believed, and so I spoke,’ we also believe, and so we also speak, knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence. For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God” (2 Corinthians 4:1-15, ESV).
We understand that salvation is all of God – it is God’s work alone.
We understand that people who are dead is sin will not naturally receive the Gospel.
We understand that people who are spiritually dead are equally in the same spot.
But God has chosen to raise us from spiritual death and put the light of the glory of Jesus Christ and His Gospel in us so when we speak and when we live before this dark and fallen world, they will see the Light of Jesus Christ in us. And, as God is pleased, God will cause our bearing of the Light to be the means through which God works to raise others to spiritual life – that they, too, would receive the Gospel to the glory of God.
So we understand, we don’t save anyone; God saves as He wills.
But, God has given us the tremendous privilege and duty to be like John the Baptist and point to Jesus and His Gospel, praying and trusting that God will accomplish His Will.
So, let us go and shine the Light of Jesus – let us live in the obedience and holiness we have been called to live as the adopted children of God, and let us speak the Gospel to all those we come in contact with.
Let us pray:
Almighty and Sovereign Father of Salvation, we thank You that it is not up to us to raise ourselves from spiritual death, nor to raise anyone else from spiritual death. We thank You that You are Sovereign in sending the Holy Spirit wherever You would send Him to raise sinners to new life. We thank You that You have placed the Light of the Gospel in us, and we ask that the Holy Spirit would lead us and open our mouths that we would speak the Name of Jesus and proclaim His Gospel so all the world would know the One Way to Salvation. For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.