As we come into the holiday season, I started looking again at how the four Gospels begin the narrative of Jesus. Every time I read its beginning, the Gospel of John baffles me! Yet this time, as I studied in depth what the Apostle John wrote, it started to make more sense, and the breath of his theological discourse is nothing short of stunning.
Here is what John 1:1-5 states, in the NASB translation:
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 apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. 4 In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. 5 The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.
I love that we have four Gospels in our New Testament. I’ve heard many critics deride the fact the New Testament has four Gospels instead of one uniform Gospel, but truth be told, four are a blessing for this very reason: they offer a variety in their depiction of the life of Jesus. For instance, in regards to the nativity, or the birth of Jesus, Matthew and Luke start with genealogies and traditional nativity renditions, each with its own emphasis. Mark, on the other hand, chooses to begin immediately with the ministry of John the Baptist, and then the launch of Jesus’ ministry as an adult. That leaves John to begin his story uniquely: he chooses to go all the way back not just to Abraham or even Adam, but to before time began!
Come and discover what I mean and see why we should celebrate the uniqueness of the fourth Gospel and its “nativity.”
Here are some of my thoughts from John’s “nativity” (please read John 1:1-5 again):
- As John sees it, to accurately comprehend Jesus, you can’t begin with Abraham (as Matthew does) or even Adam (as Luke does), but must start “in the beginning” as John states in 1:1. Another way to express “in the beginning” is “before time began” so John is deliberately referring back to Genesis 1:1 and adamantly declaring that the coming of Jesus in the flesh is just as paramount as the creation of the world!
- The term “the Word” used by John to describe Jesus is a profound word steeped in both Greek and Jewish culture, or to state more academically, is both philosophically and theologically rich in its meaning. Therefore, John is saying Jesus is the sovereign rational principle guiding all of life (part of the philosophical heritage of the word), or even more, as seen in the Old Testament, Jesus is “the Word” because he is the powerful self-expression of God as is seen in creation (see Psalms 33:6).
- Jesus’ exact role in creation is as the agent of creation: “all things came into being through him” (1:3). Think of it this way – Jesus was born into a world he gave birth to!
- Jesus brought life, but we didn’t “comprehend” it, and not only that, depending on the context, this specific word can also mean mankind could not “conquer” it. Ironically both are true in John’s present context, and still true today: Jesus is the misunderstood king of kings!
So not a bad start for the Apostle John as he presents Jesus to the world. Let me close with one of my prayers for this Christmas season: I pray that we will recognize the babe in the manger brought love and salvation to a desperate world not only by what he did, but because of who he was, and is today.