John 1:1 – Jesus is God
This is the first of what is likely to be many thoughts on John’s Gospel. The very first verse of this Gospel is this, ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.’
That introduces two exceedingly powerful ideas in the two words ‘God’ and ‘Word’. So powerful that we need to take them one at a time, so ‘Word’ is left to next time.
What a way to start a Gospel! Matthew wanted to put Jesus in context so he gives us a genealogy going right back to Abraham. Mark was so excited by Jesus he plunges right in to what he did without bothering with an introduction. Luke wanted to be a very careful historian so to explain how Jesus fitted into his immediate surroundings he takes us back through a few months of family history. But John goes straight to telling us who Jesus is. He is GOD. That was some assertion in a world where pagans thought there were many gods but the Jewish people knew there was only one God. It is hard to say which is the more difficult idea to challenge head on, as John does. Of course it was the non-Jewish, the pagan, world that thought there were many gods. There were gods in the house, perhaps even one in every room; there were gods in the town, and the country. There was a god in Rome, called Caesar – and he was the most dangerous one of all since one could worship many gods, choose which ones to worship, but you could not choose to worship Caesar, or not to worship him – you had to worship him. No choice; if you were not prepared to say ‘Caesar is Lord’ you were an atheist, and you might die because of it. John was writing, probably about 60 years after Jesus died, for people he knew in the fellowship of which he was leader, and they were under threat. So it was important to say to them, ‘Jesus is Lord, Jesus is God’ very loudly, and very clearly.
And then there were the Jews, brought up to believe that there was only one God and to say every day, at least once, ‘Hear O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one.’ John knew very well that Jesus was a man, he was human, but here he is saying he was God. Could he be both at the same time? The answer is yes – he was both man and God, but that is no easy thing to get your mind round so people have been struggling with the idea ever since. There is no point in me trying to argue in these brief notes how Jesus could be both God and man at one and the same time. What I am going to do is point out some of the main reasons the early Christians decided he was God as well as a man.
The first and probably main reason is that they found themselves having to worship him and you could not worship someone who was not God (the pagans did worship heroes who were human but that was not even a possibility for the many Jews who were in the early churches). Thus when he was healed the blind man said, ‘“Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him.’ (Jn 9: 38). When they saw him go back to heaven it is said of the disciples, ‘they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy’. (Lk 24: 52). There are many praise statements scattered through the epistles such as 2 Pet 3: 18, ‘grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever’. There is plenty of evidence that this is what happened and continued to happen in the early church after the New Testament was complete.
The second reason was the many things that he did and said which could only be said or done by God. Thus when Jesus said to the paralyzed man in Mk 2: 5 “Son, your sins are forgiven,” religious people watching immediately started to think and say, “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” Jesus also had the ability to command the creation. When he and his disciples were caught in a storm on the Sea of Galilee Mark reports that , ‘He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm’. Only God had control over the created world.
The third reason is perhaps best expressed in the words of a famous writer who said ‘he was either mad, bad or God’. He was pointing to the fact that no one could say the things that Jesus said unless he was indeed God. Otherwise it was the most extraordinary show of pompous self-promotion and blasphemy imaginable. He said, ‘Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.’ Really! Who could possibly say that of themselves? Jesus did.
Our God is that astonishing thing a Triune God: God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit: three persons but only one God. We shall never get our minds round that completely but that is what Scripture presents us with. We shall see the remarkable results of that in our next study. What an amazing Lord and God we follow and worship.