Scripture Reference: Genesis 1:1, Psalms 107:19-20, Proverbs 8:22-31, Isaiah 55, John 1:1-18
The LogosRev. Philip Miller | September 20, 2020
Scripture Reference: Genesis 1:1, Psalms 107:19-20, Proverbs 8:22-31, Isaiah 55, John 1:1-18
Selected highlights from this sermon
What is your identity based on? Accomplishments? Titles? Your beauty? Who you know? In today’s world, a person’s identity is a big deal. Their whole being is wrapped up in their identity to the point of being an obsession—even a prison.
But what if the secret to an identity is to know that the God of the universe loves you? God rejoices over you. He is reaching out to you. He’d move heaven and Earth to be near you.
Actually, He already has.
As Pastor Miller begins this series, he walks us through the various meanings of the word “logos” and how Jesus fills those meanings. He explains that the beginning of the Gospel of John is an invitation for us to come and see Jesus—to see this Logos. As for our identities? Well, for those who know Jesus , we have a new and glorious identity as a child of God. We are so loved by Jesus, He came and gave His life for us.
Editor's note: This is the first of 38 forthcoming sermons in a study on the Gospel of John
Well, good morning Moody Church. Today we begin a brand new series in the Gospel of John titled “Loved by Jesus.” This is, of all the Gospels, of all the accounts of Jesus’ life, this one is my favorite probably because our author, John, does something very peculiar in this book. He never mentions himself by name. Actually whenever he shows up it’s this phrase, that the disciple that Jesus loved was there. What’s interesting to me is, you know, I used to think that John was being a bit presumptuous. You know, “I’m the one that Jesus loved,” as if “I’m Jesus’ favorite,” or something like this. But I realized that’s not really it at all.
For John, the most defining, grounding, and meaningful identity he could ever find was in the simple fact that he was, is, and always would be loved by Jesus. In the end, nothing else mattered. All his accomplishments, all his connections, titles, his writings—he was a pretty big deal. Even his life itself, at the end of the day, didn’t matter at all because what really counted was that he was loved by Jesus. And I think this is remarkable. Jesus’ love changed John’s life forever. John started out as one of the “sons of thunder,” one of these loud mouth guys. You know, he was always jockeying around about who was going to get to sit at Jesus’ left or His right in the kingdom of heaven. But in the end, at the end of his life, John writes and he says, “All that really matters is I was loved by Jesus.” Jesus loves me, this I know.
And here’s the point for us. What if the key, what if the secret to an identity, so free, so abundantly full of life, so solid and lasting that all other identities fade into insignificance, what if the key to that kind of identity is to be loved by Jesus? What if who we are isn’t what others expect us to be, or what others tell us we are, or what we expect us to be, or what we tell us we are? But what if who we really are, at the very core of our being is who we’re loved by, that we are loved by Jesus and what He says about us is what really matters most?
See, this series is an invitation, an invitation to come and discover this Jesus who so transformed John’s life with His love. But to understand that kind of love we have to first see the Jesus that John knows, this Jesus who turned John’s world upside down, or maybe we should say right side up.
So let’s jump in this morning, but before we do that, would you pray with me? Let’s ask that the Lord would be with us.
Father, we turn to you now. We ask you that you would change our lives, that you would ground our identity, that you would give us a sense of who we are in the love of Jesus. We pray this in His beautiful name, Amen. Amen.
Today we’re going to be in John, chapter one. We’re going to look at the first eighteen verses, and we’re going to discover this first glimpse that John gives us of Jesus, who is the Logos. The Logos—that’s a weird word, you don’t hear it every day. Logos in Greek means simply word, or matter, or reason, something like this. And so, what we’re going to do this morning is we’re going to start unpacking that term. And I want to show us three things this morning. I want to show us the enigma of the word, the Logos, the enlightening of the Logos, and the enfleshment of the Logos this morning.
Okay, let’s jump in. First, the enigma of the Logos. John 1:1 says this: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
Now just pause for a moment here. We know, down from verse 17 (we’ll get there eventually) that the Logos here, this Logos, this word is referring to Jesus. But here’s the question. Why does John take sixteen verses to tell us Jesus’ name? Why doesn’t he just start out and say, “In the beginning was Jesus?” Wouldn’t that be clearer? Well, there’s an extended metaphor here and John is doing this on purpose because logos is actually a technical term from the first century. And by using this word logos, John is engaging both Greek philosophy and Old Testament theology at once. It is brilliant. It is beautiful. Let me show you what he’s doing.
I’m going to give you a quick historical survey of the backdrop, okay? First, I want to introduce you to a guy named Heraclitus. Heraclitus. This is well before the time of Jesus. He was an early Greek philosopher, hailed from Ephesus. He said famously (listen to this quote), “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it is not the same river and he is not the same man.” (laughs) It sure sounds like a philosopher, doesn’t it? This is a very philosophical statement.
His point is that the universe is an ever-changing thing. It’s always in flux.
It’s impossible to step in the same river twice. If you go down to the Chicago River and get in it (I don’t recommend that), but if you get in the Chicago River you will find that the water is flowing. You cannot get in the same water droplets twice. Right? They’re moving, and you are always changing. You know all the cells in your body change out every seven years, or something like this.
So we are always changing. The universe is always in flux. The rivers change, and yet, we still call it the Chicago River. And yet you still call me Philip. What is the stability amidst all the change? What is the continuity amidst all of the chaos? This is the question. And Heraclitus used this word. He said, “There’s a unifying principle that undergirds the universe, and that word he called, this principle he called the Logos, that there was a word, a matter, something anchoring and gluing together the universe resolving all of its disparate parts. For him the Logos was the unifying principle of all matter, history and reason. This is how he used the word Logos.
Plato comes along a little bit later. And Plato says, (this is an amazing quotation) he said this: “It may be that some day there will come forth from God a Word, (Logos) a Logos, that will reveal all mysteries and make everything plain.” Isn’t that amazing? He asked it somewhat facetiously. “Oh yeah, some day God may answer all the questions. Some day God may send a Word and we don’t have to search for answers anymore because it will all be plain and understood, and in the meantime, we just have to sort things out.” But he said, “One day a Logos may come.” For Plato, logos was ultimate reason, explanation, or answer.
Aristotle comes along. Aristotle. Again a little bit later in his treatise on the art of persuasion titled “Rhetoric,” Aristotle identified three artistic proofs or modes of persuasion: logos, pathos, and ethos. Logos was rational appeal, pathos was emotional appeal, ethos was ethical appeal. And so, without getting into all the nuance of that, logos here, for him, was persuasive and convincing reason.
Then along come the stoic philosophers, and this is a wide range of individuals, a very non-defined movement, that brackets the coming of Jesus and the writing of John, but historic philosophers talk about it even today. People are stoic. You know, they’re sort of emotionally detached, rational creatures. This was their philosophy. They sought to ultimately know the true rational universe, what was real and firm and not emotionally in flux, but what was real and true. They believed that the origin of the universe was found in what they called the Logos (there’s our word again), that the Logos was the thing that gave order to and sustained all of life throughout all the universe. Logos for the stoics was the ultimate reality pervading and animating the cosmos.
Then along comes Philo of Alexandria. This man is a contemporary of Jesus and John. He was a Hellenistic Jew, so he’s a Jewish man, but he’s Hellenistic. He’s influencing Greek philosophy and Greek culture. He was a contemporary of John when he wrote these things. He wrote this. This is an exact quote. “The Logos of the living God is the bond of everything, holding all things together and binding all the parts, and prevents them from being dissolved and separated.”
So there are two things I want you to see here. First, Philo has connected Logos with God Himself. This is the Logos of the living God. Logos for him is a bit of like cosmic glue. It is the cosmic reality that is ordering and binding and stabilizing all of the disparate parts of the universe. The Logos is the order beneath the order. It is the being behind all being. It is the life beyond all life, and before all life. So in Greek philosophy, if we could sum all this up here, Logos was kind of shorthand for ultimate cosmic reality—ultimate cosmic reality.
And John, by using the word Logos is entering into dialog with these Greek philosophers. So he’s telling us, “In the beginning, before everything in the universe, there was the Logos, ultimate cosmic reality, order beneath all order, being behind all being, life before all life.”
Heraclitus: that mysterious unifying principle that gives order to all reality, it exists, and it exists not just as a principle, but is a person. The Logos is not only with God. He, in fact, was God. He was in the beginning with God.
And Philo: here is your Logos of the living God who holds all things together.
And stoic philosophers: here is your Logos, who pervades and animates the cosmos. “All things,” as he writes, “were made through Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made. In Him was life, and that life was the light of men.”
Aristotle: here is your reason beyond all reason.
Plato: you surmised that one day there may come forth from God a Logos who will reveal all mysteries and make everything plain, and I’m here to let you know, He’s here! The Logos has arrived. The deep mysteries of the universe are now being unraveled and disclosed and revealed in a person. The Logos is coming to light.
So John here is brilliantly engaging with Greek philosophy, but he’s also a Jew. And because he’s a Jew he has the heritage of the Old Testament Scriptures. And he’s also drawing on those.
If we go back to the Old Testament and do a quick theological study of the concept of the Word, the Word of God, we will find four main strands all throughout the Old Testament. The first one is that God’s Word, the Word of God, is all about creation. Creation in the Word of God.
John 1:1 here is an intentional echo of Genesis 1:1. He says, “In the beginning.” What does that sound like? It’s like today if we were to say, “We the people.” You know exactly what I’m referring to. It’s not that those words are all that special, but when I say, “We the people,” you know I’m talking about the Constitution. And for a Jewish person to begin a sentence, “In the beginning,” was to refer back to Genesis 1:1. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” And how did God create the heavens and the earth? What did He do? He spoke. His Word was His creative force. The Hebrew word is dabar. The translation into Greek is Logos. “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.”
And on and on it goes. God speaks and then it comes into reality: land, planets, stars, animals. Everything comes to life and into being because of the Word of God.
Now, there’s a little bit of a theological enigma going on here though, and here’s the question: How does a spiritual being, God, who is spirit, create a physical reality? You see the physical is all this firm stuff. Spirit is out here. Right? What is the connection between spirit and physical, between immaterial and material? We see this tension in metaphysics today when we say, “What is the connection between the mind and the brain?” You see? One’s a physical organ, but where’s the mind? How do you measure the mind, see? These are the questions. How do we have a spiritual, immaterial God creating a physical, material universe? What is the bridge between these realms, between these metaphysical categories? And the answer is the Word, the Logos. The Word of God is the bridge between God and man, between Creator and creation.
The immaterial, spiritual creator, through His Word, bridges to the material and physical universe. So in other words, the Word becomes the agent of creation and life. Does that make sense? The Word is the agent of creation and life. So that’s the first way we see the Word of God.
The second way we see it is in revelation, the Word of God in revelation. God reveals Himself in His Word. For example, in Isaiah and Jeremiah and Ezekiel we see this phrase over and over again. The Word of the Lord came to Isaiah or Jeremiah or Ezekiel. Now this is very interesting language. It doesn’t say, “The Lord came to them and said...” It says, “The Word came to them.” It doesn’t say, “The Lord swept them up, caught them up to like some sort of vision, and they were with God and heard Him speak.” It says, “The Word came to them.” It’s almost like the Word left God and His person, traveled some distance, and showed up somewhere. The Word of the Lord came to them. It’s as if it was sent. It was dispatched. It’s like it’s a messenger. It’s almost as if the Word is living and active. Do you see this?
We see this even more clearly when it comes to salvation, the Word of God in salvation. In Isaiah 55 this is what we read: “So shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”
So here you have the idea of God’s Word traveling forth, being sent forth with power and authority and efficacy. It has agency. It is dispatched. It is sent here. Or in Psalm 107, this is what we read: “Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress. He sent out his word and healed them, and delivered them from their destruction.” That’s Psalm 107:19–20. So here we have God’s word healing, and delivering His people. It says if God is sending His “right hand man,” if you will, to carry out a rescue mission on behalf of His people, and the Word of God is starting to take on a sense of agency for sure, and almost a sense of personhood. Do you see that?
Now, in the wisdom literature, this is what we read in Proverbs, chapter 8. The Word of God is connected with wisdom. This is a long quotation, but let me read it. It’s very important. Proverbs 8:22–31: “The Lord possessed me…” This is wisdom speaking, personified in the book of Proverbs. “The Lord possessed me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of old. Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth. When there were no depths I was brought forth, when there were no springs abounding with water. Before the mountains had been shaped, before the hills, I was brought forth, before he had made the earth with its fields, or the first of the dust of the world. When he established the heavens, I was there; when he drew a circle on the face of the deep, when he made firm the skies above, when he established the fountains of the deep, when he assigned the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress his command, when he marked out the foundations of the earth (Do you see all of the allusions to creation here?), then I was beside him, like a master workman, and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always, rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the children of man.”
So we see here that the Lord’s divine word of wisdom is personified as a pre (listen), a pre-existent companion of God’s before the beginning of time. This wisdom is a master workman, God’s daily delight. God rejoices over him always, and this, whoever it is, this wisdom rejoices over all creation and humanity in particular.
Who are we talking about? See, in all of these texts it’s suggesting that the Word of God is more than just utterance. There is agency and power and almost personhood to God’s Word, God’s dabar, translated here “the Logos, who is like the agent of divine life.”
John is saying (he’s engaging all of this history), “In the beginning was the Word.” This bridge between the immaterial God and the material world, who brought all life into being, who was sent forth in revelation, dispatched as a messenger, who was sent forth and dispatched to bring salvation and rescue to His people, this eternal wisdom who was with God before the dawn of time, this Word, this Logos, this agent of divine life is making Himself known. This Logos is coming to light.
And John here is pulling together Greek and Jewish backgrounds, and he is saying, “If you want to sum it all up, that ultimate cosmic reality and the agent of divine life is now coming to light. The ultimate cosmic reality, an agent of divine life, is coming to light.” Verse 5 says, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” Friend, the enigmas of the universe are coming to light, and no amount of darkness can stand in its way. Just as God spoke in creation and light went forth and darkness fled, now again God is speaking in the person of His Son. This is the enigma coming to light.
Secondly, we see the enlightening of the Logos.
Don’t worry. These next two points go a lot faster. Okay? (chuckles)
Verse 6, “There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.” This is not our author John. Remember he’s the disciple Jesus loved. This is John the Baptizer. We’ll learn more about him in a few weeks. “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.”
So we’re introduced to this character, to John the Baptizer. He’ll be important, but right now we want to be clear. He’s not the light himself. We’re talking about the light, the Logos. This is not Him. He’s just the messenger.
Verse 9: “The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.” So this Logos, this Light, is approaching. It’s coming into the world, shining down like a beacon, beaming into this dark world, piercing the darkness.
Verse 10: “He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know Him.” So he’s like a beam of light shining down, and yet incognito.
Verse 11: “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.” It’s a scandal, rejected by His own people.
Verse 12: “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name (By the way, we still don’t have His name, do we? Wait for it.), he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”
So this Logos, this light is shining like a beacon you can’t disguise. The darkness cannot overcome it, and yet it’s incognito, hidden. You have to search it out. And you can’t miss it. It’s the light, but it won’t overpower you. You can reject it. In fact, many people did. But if you would dare to receive the Light, the Logos, welcome Him, believe on Him, embrace Him, something cosmic will happen to you. You will be given the rights, the privileges to become children of God, born again, not the natural way, but the divine way. He’s saying, “The ultimate cosmic reality and the agent of divine life is moving toward us in self-disclosure with a life-altering destiny.”
Do you realize how remarkable this is, friends? All other religions basically give us a path to find our way to God. “Keep these rules.” “Follow this path.” “Obey this teaching.” “Seek out this enlightenment.” It’s about finding our way to God. But the Bible is the story of how God found His way to us. To us! This isn’t about reaching up toward God. This is about God reaching out for us with a life-altering destiny that hangs in the balance here. Because, friends, at the back end of the universe is not a principle, or a force, or a law, or a void. At the back end of the universe is a God who loves you, is a heavenly Father who wants you and me as His children. And His Logos, His Word, His light has come that we might have life, which means God is pursuing us.
God is pursuing us. And I don’t know about you, but I love to be pursued. I love to be wanted. I love to have people reaching out and people loving me. That’s what my soul longs for, and do you realize that what the Bible is telling us is that the God of the universe loves you, that He knows you, that He desires you, that He rejoices over you, and that He is reaching out for you, that He would move heaven and Earth to be near to you. In fact, He already has because He has sent His Logos, His Word, His life, His light——not in an abstract sort of way, but in the flesh.
We come to the third point here, the enfleshment of the Logos. Verse 14: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, (This is literally, “He tabernacled amongst us.” He pitched His tent in our camp. He moved into our neighborhood.) and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
And so we’re getting clarity here. This is not just the logos in principle, or the light in the abstract. This is now the Son, the Son from the Father.
Verse 15: “John bore witness about Him, and cried out, ‘This was he of whom I said, “He who comes after me (in terms of time) ranks before me (in terms of prominence), because he was before me (pre-existent), for (verse 16) from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.”’” This Logos, this Light, this Son has come now with unbounded, undeserved, and unexpected grace.
Verse 17: “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” Ah, there’s His name, Jesus Christ. Moses used to be the epicenter of the revelation and life of God, the Covenant, and now there’s another epicenter, the person of Jesus Christ. Grace and truth have come in Jesus Christ. Do you realize how important that is? This is what you and I need, grace and truth together, because if you have truth without grace, it’s harsh and you won’t listen to it, will you? And if you have grace without truth, it’s just coddling. But grace and truth together, that’s transforming. This is what comes in Jesus Christ.
Verse 18: “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.”
Friends, all of a sudden, God is up close and personal in the person of Jesus Christ. And John is so very nuanced in these words here. In verse 1 he said, “Jesus is the Word who was with God, at His side.” And then he said, “And the Word was God, divine in every way, and He was with God in the beginning.” In verse 18 he says, “Jesus is the only God, divine in every way, who is at the Father’s side, who brings into plain sight the God that nobody can see.” (laughs) Now if this makes your head hurt, welcome to the club. John is nuancing carefully that while the Son and the Father are different in terms of persons, they are the same in terms of essence, that the Father is God, the Son is God. Elsewhere we will learn that the Holy Spirit Himself is God. They are three Persons and one in essence. This is the doctrine of what we call the Trinity, that the one true God eternally exists as three co-equal and co-eternal persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and these three are one God. And John’s point here is crystal clear, that this Logos, this Light, this Son is nothing other, nothing less than God Himself come to Earth, that the ultimate cosmic reality and the agent of divine life has taken up residence amongst us, making glory, grace, and truth accessible to each and every one of us, and His name is Jesus.
So friends, don’t you see that in all of this prologue, this beginning of the book of John, this is an invitation. It is an invitation. John is inviting us. Won’t you come and see this Jesus? Won’t you come and see Jesus?
I want to talk to those of you who are maybe kicking the tires on faith. You’re not really sure if you’re into all this Jesus stuff. Maybe you stumbled on this stream, or somebody invited or shared it with you. Maybe you’re related to somebody who likes church and you’re just sort of sitting there on the couch. I’m talking to you right now. A lot of us like Jesus, like the idea of Jesus, but aren’t so sure about church. I don’t blame you, but could I just invite you? Would you just look at Jesus for a moment unfiltered? Take all the other baggage out of the way and just look at Jesus. Consider Jesus. Don’t you owe it to this man? Listen, if He is who He says He is, if He is really the reason all of history got turned upside down, if He really is the person who has transformed my life and so many hundreds of thousands of other people who owe their transforming life story to the work of Jesus, if He really is who He says He is, the divine Son of God, come to rescue you and me, ultimate cosmic reality come to life, the very basis of life itself come, pursuing, reaching out for you, friends, if He is who He says He is, don’t you owe it to at least look and see, to come and see who He is, to consider His claims, to look at His life, to wonder if there’s not something to all of this? Can I invite you in this series to just lean in to come and see Jesus? Try to see Him afresh, not as sitcoms portray Him but as He is revealed in the Word of God? Would you come and see Jesus?
And for those of us who are church people, maybe we have been following Jesus a long time. Can I invite you as well? Won’t you come and see Jesus? Won’t you come and see Him afresh, see Him anew? Won’t you come and admire Him in His beauty and brilliance and boldness? Won’t you allow Him to just sort of shatter, kick out the walls you’ve built around Him? Won’t you allow Him to surprise you, to shock you, to woo you? Won’t you allow yourself to fall in love all over again with Jesus? Because if you and I are ever going to discover the deepest identity of our lives, that we are loved by Jesus, we’re going to need to see Him afresh and anew.
So won’t you come and see Jesus in this series? He might just change everything, you know. He just might.
Will you bow your heads and let’s pray together?
Father, help us see Jesus. Of all the people in all the world, the One whose face we most need to see, unveiled, unmasked with no social distancing, is Jesus. To see His face is to behold glory, grace, and truth, to see the God we cannot see, to know the God beyond all knowing, to live the life beyond the walls of the world. Help us see Jesus, we pray in His name, Amen.