WORD OF GOD SPEAK — HEAVEN CAME DOWN
by Pastor Mike Fortune
April 21, 2007
“1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” 2He was with God in the beginning. 3Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4In him was life, and that life was the light of men.” Today, we’re beginning a new series of sermons on the Gospel of John called Word of God Speak. I chose the title because I liked the lyrics of a song by Mercy Me by the same title. They go like this: “I’m finding myself at a loss for words / And the funny thing is it’s okay / The last thing I need is to be heard / But to hear what You would say.”
I liked those lyrics so much that I downloaded them and put them on my cell phone as my ringer. So now whenever I receive a call, I’m reminded that it’s not about my words, it’s about The Word. And how long before the word was a book, it was a person. John, in the first few verses of his Gospel, introduces Jesus to us as Logos. The Word. And through the living Word, he tells us that we can still hear Jesus speaking to us—if we’re listening.
The last few months I’ve been preaching topical sermons. What A Church Wants. What A Church Needs. What Simon Saw. Whatever. Now, I’d like to start a more interactive and expository series on the Gospel of John. What I’m going to do is take chunks of Scripture and share with you from them what I believe God’s word, as given, is saying about The Word. I hope as we march along that each of you will, like me, become a little more confident in hearing God speaking to you. Because what I’m going to be sharing is simply what I’ve heard God speaking to me. And if He can do that with me, He can do that with you! So we’re going to experiment with some simple ways for you to hear the Logos speak to you. And then to make our time together a little more interactive, I’m going to give some of you the opportunity to shout out to me from your seats what else you heard God speak this week. I’ll still preach. And when I ask, you don’t have to respond. If you’re shy. Or if this sounds too weird. But I sincerely want to hear what God is speaking to me through you and not just the other way around. I believe if you read ahead with me and come prepared to share that together we can highlight some of the points these passages of Scripture are making. Next week, I’m going to be preaching on John 1:19-28 so read ahead with me this next week and together we’ll learn to hear God speak. It’ll be fun. You can do it. Because He will do it.
Besides, this is actually how Jesus preached all the time. It’s not as weird as it sounds. Okay, so that’s the game plan. And now you know why I chose the title Word of God Speak for this series. But why did I choose John? There are 66 books in the Bible? Why start with John? Answer? Because John is my favorite book of the Bible.
The first reason I love the book of John is because the Jesus of the fourth Gospel is assertive. He rebukes his own mother in John 2:4! “Dear woman, why do you involve me? My time has not yet come!” He is combative. He tells Nicodemus in John 3:10. “You are Israel’s teacher and you do not understand these things?” He doesn’t shy away from debate. He asks the Pharisees in John 8:43-44. “Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say. You belong to your father the devil and you want to carry out your father’s desire.” He was maybe even a little sarcastic in John 10:31-32. “Again the Jews picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus said to them, ‘I have shown you many great miracles from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?’”
The Gospel of John is a manly book
Over 60 years have passed since Jesus walked the earth. The elderly statesmen John, having survived his exile on Patmos, and having outlived the Roman emperor who put him there, has returned to Ephesus where it’s believed he wrote his magnus opus—the Gospel of John. These pictures of Jesus written by a former son of thunder is something I believe more of us men can relate to because men can be assertive, combative, argumentative, and often sarcastic at times. Am I right ladies or am I right ladies? I don’t think you have to be from Mars or Venus to know this is generally true of men. So the Gospel of John is a manly book. Its very beginning is manly. Blasting away any doubts as to the divinity of Jesus. Jesus was not only with God in the beginning, He was and is God! Distinct from the Father. Simultaneously equal with the Father.
Whatever else the book of John talks about, such as the presence of God, the proximity of God, or the proclamation of God, one startling in your face statement from the very getgo is that through the Creator, the earth is now being recreated. Not just at some point in the distant future. But in the here and now. The darkness of popular culture cannot and will not withstand the presence of the light of the world. Rightly understood, the secular is being swallowed up by the sacred. In fact, salvation and judgment and everything Matthew, Mark, and Luke usually place in the future as signs of the times that occur in the end days, John actually places in the present! Which comes as a huge surprise to many Adventists and their understanding of eschatology. So we’ll talk about that.
But the point is, just as in the Creation account of Genesis, the darkness could not stay in the presence of created light, according to John 1:5 darkness cannot now stay in the presence of the light of the world. Even in a world full of hand guns and bloodshed, that does not recognize its Creator, darkness is on the run. The Light of the World is overtaking the darkness. Jesus is transforming the world not the other way around. Which is a message that a grieving nation needs to be reminded of again this week.
Certainly by now you heard that on Monday morning April 16, on the campus of Virginia Tech University in Blacksburg, Virginia, a 23‑year‑old senior majoring in English, who may have been taking medication for depression, killed himself after carrying out the worst shooting massacre in modern U.S. history. This image made from NBC on Wednesday, April 18, 2007 shows the gunman in part of a package apparently mailed to the network on Monday, April 16 between the first and second bursts of gunfire on the Virginia Tech campus.
After the bloodbath, officials found the gunman’s backpack in his dorm room and a typed, eight‑page rant against rich kids and religion. Cho indicated in his letter that the end was near and that there was a deed to be done. He also expressed disappointment in his own religion and made several references to Christianity. John 1:3-5 says about Jesus, “Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him, was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.”
Could there be something more unlikely than the Creator of the world not being embraced by the world He created? Wouldn’t it be amazing if the Christian community, whom Cho apparently accused of not embracing him before this tragic shooting, not only embraced the families of the victims that were shot but also the hard working family of the shooter who also lost a child that day? I hope our conversations and actions and responses to such tragedy embrace all those who are touched by it. The Prologue to the Gospel of John starts with just such a bang. Reminding us of the controversial nature of when the Word became flesh and literally shekinah gloried among us. Jesus went from the heavenly sanctuary to the earthly. Heaven literally came down! Verse 4 announces the headline news. In Him was life. And that life is the light of the world. Regardless of who pulled the trigger. John’s is a very assertive manly Gospel. In your face. Startling from the getgo.
But the 2nd reason I really like the Gospel of John is because most of the stories found in John cannot be found in the other three Gospels. Such as the encounters between Jesus and Nicodemus in chapter 3, Jesus and the Samaritan woman in chapter 4, Jesus and the paralytic at Bethesda in chapter 5, Jesus and the blind man in chapter 9, Jesus and Pilate in chapter 18, and Jesus and Peter in the epilogue of John found in chapter 21.
Although parables play a major role in Jesus’ ministry in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, they are rare and by some definitions extinct in the Gospel of John—unless you count the metaphors of the Good Shepherd in John 10 and the True Vine in John 15. In addition to the lack of parables, John’s Gospel omits other things that are part of the Jesus story in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. There are no accounts of Jesus’ birth, His baptism, the Last Supper, Gethsemane, or the ascension. Neither is there any account of the healing of people possessed by evil spirits. These omissions are not because John had a brain freeze. Or in his advanced years had an Alzheimers moment. These things are omitted so other things can be added. John knows the location of Jacob’s well in John 4 and of Solomon’s Colonnade in John 10. He remembers Peter’s private gesture in the upper room in John 13:24 and the number, size, and weight of the water pots at the wedding in Cana in John 2. He knows that the loaves with which Jesus fed the multitude were made of barley in John 6 and that the soldiers at the cross gambled for the garments of Jesus in John 19. He remembers the fragrance of the perfume that Mary anointed Jesus with in John 12 and the layout of the Pool of Bethesda in John 5—which is cool because by the time he was writing the Pool of Bethesda had been destroyed for over 25 years! He had accurate knowledge of the blueprints of Jerusalem and its surroundings and is therefore a fascinating eye witness to the details that occurred there.
In Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Jesus’ ministry is focused mainly on Galilee and He visits Jerusalem only once. In John however, Jesus repeatedly visits Jerusalem and His ministry makes a much bigger impact on Jerusalem and Judea than it does on Galilee. Although these visits aren’t mentioned in the three other Gospels, they are implied in a couple of statements such as those in Matthew 23:37 and Luke 13:34 where Jesus says, “O Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings but you were not willing.”
God meets people where they are
So John’s Gospel is assertive and unique telling stories and details none of his friends reveal and that only an eyewitness could share. But the fourth reason I like the Gospel of John is because more than any other book, it clearly teaches that God meets people where they are. Three aspects of the Prologue we’re studying today, these first 18 verses of the book of John, make clear that God meets people where they are and so should we. He inspires ordinary people to communicate in the language, culture, and concepts that would be most familiar to the audience he’s trying to reach. John uses an early Christian hymn to express his exalted insights into the nature and character and divinity of Jesus. He structures the Prologue in ways that would make sense to a Jewish reader. And third, he gives Jesus a title that was far better known in the pagan Gentile world than such Jewish titles as Messiah or Son of Man.
By these strategies, John, under inspiration from God, created a startling Prologue that would speak powerfully to every reader of his day whether Christian, Jewish, or even pagan. And these 3 aspects of the prologue of John all clearly teach the same point. And that is this. God meets all of us wherever we are. In John 1:1-18, He uses music, structure, and language to meet us wherever we are. And these 3 aspects are what I want to zero in on in today.
First of all, there is considerable evidence that major parts of the Prologue to the Fourth Gospel were drawn from an early Christian hymn. Specifically verses 1-5 which we’ve read, verses 9-11, and 16-18. Let’s read John 1:9-11 and John 1:16-18 together in unison off the screen. See if you can hear the repetition and see the parallel ideas so prevalent in Hebrew poetry and lyrics.
Read these with me. “9The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world. 10He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.”
John 1:16-18 adds these words, “16From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another. 17For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father's side, has made him known.” While that doesn’t sound all that lyrical or poetic to me, scholars disagree. They say that long before Green Eggs and Ham, authors of the Bible were familiar with rhyming ideas not words. They used poetic and parallel repetition to get their points across. They cite Philippians 2:6-11; Colossians 1:15-20; and 1 Timothy 3:16 as additional places in Scripture that obviously borrows from the lyrics of known songs to convey spiritual truths.
Discovering these New Testament songs leads to a very practical application. We can often remember the words to songs better than we can remember the words on a page. Isn’t that true? Paul and Silas proved this to be true in Acts when they sang in prison of all places! I experience this truth whenever there is a funeral. And a group of believers have gathered where in spite of the pain of separation and loss, they are able to sing “Jesus cares, I know He cares!” or “I know whom I have believed in” or “Blessed Assurance Jesus is mine.”
Sometimes we think Christians today are so far removed from Bible times and there are some pretty significant cultural differences between then and now regarding gender and dress for example, but there’s probably more in common than we care to admit as well. They too lived in a world full of irrational violence. Over zealous fanaticism. And bloodshed. They too had to wrestle with sudden loss of life. Falling towers. And persecution. And guess what? In the middle of all of that, they sang!
One of my wife’s favorite singers and rapidly becoming one of mine is Martina McBride. She sings a song called “Anyway.” Here are some of the lyrics. “God is great, but sometimes life ain’t good / And when I pray it doesn’t always turn out like I think it should. But I do it anyway / You can pour your soul out singing a song you believe in that tomorrow they’ll forget you ever sang / Sing it anyway.” And that’s what those early Christians were doing. And that’s why John used the words he did to remind them of the truth that darkness is really on the run. Regardless of how it seems. We’re going to do something similar in just a moment when we stand and sing our closing song today called “Heaven Came Down And Glory Filled My Soul.” So God meets people where they are. And the prologue, the first 18 verses of John teaches us this extremely important evangelistic truth surprisingly through the very music the scriptures are based upon.
The next thing John uses to teach us this truth is structure. Now this is usually where people get bored and lose their interest. So I hope you guys can hang with me. I confess to you that I too usually have little interest in reading what theologians think the author was thinking when he wrote what he did in whatever order he did so. But in John’s writings in his Gospel and the book of Revelation and also in Romans and Hebrews for example, structure is extremely important because the very way the verses are presented funnel the reader to the major theme and purpose of the book. Nowadays, we do that in the dedication. Back then, they were a little more subtle.
John used language and structure familiar to people of his day
Have a look with me at the Chiastic Structure of John 1:1-18. In the prologue of John, notice how the first couple verses of John talk about the Word with God and how verse 18 also talks about the Word with Father. Verse 3 talks about the World’s role in Creation. Verse 17 echoes with His role in re-creation. Verses 4-5 talk about the gift of life and light. Verse 16 talks about the gifts of grace and truth. Verses 6-8 talk about John the Baptist. Verse 15 also talks about John the Baptist. Verses 9-11 talks about the Word entering the world. Verse 14 talks about the Word becoming flesh. And then smack in the middle of this parallel chiastic structure so familiar to Jewish thought and poetry comes this amazing declaration: “12Yet to all who received Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God. 13Children not born of natural descent, not of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.”
So what’s the point? The point is John is using a literary structure common to Hebrew logic everyone in the first century would have been familiar with to teach people that God meets people where they are so that all who received Him, to those who believed in His name, might be saved! This structure is called chiasm from the Greek letter chi which looks like an X. And whether you realize it or not, good speakers still use this literary technique today. They’ll start with a concept. Talk about some stuff. And then bring it all back together when you’re all done without sounding redundant. The first point parallels the last point. But the main point is clear. And while we may not realize it when we crack open the Gospel of John, any pagan reading John back then would have. Recognized the lyrics to this song and the order in which they were arranged. God was meeting people where they were in as many ways as He could cram into 18 verses so that all who believed in His name might become children of God.
In case you still don’t believe in chiastic structures, I encourage you to read the same theme which John repeats in case we missed it in John 20:30-31 [NIV] which reads, “30Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”
But it wasn’t just the music and the structure of the book that John literally used to teach us that God meets people where they are, this was especially obvious from the title that John uses to to introduce Jesus to emerging generations of believers. Remember, John was getting up there in years. We live longer today than they did in Jesus’ day. And he was now writing primarily to convince people who had never personally seen Jesus or felt his touch that His word is as good as His touch. That by faith the miraculous occurs. If John had approached his Greek audience in Ephesus by saying, “Let me tell you about Jesus the Messiah.” they would have said, “Jesus the what?” and would have felt little interest in the information. If he had talked about Jesus the Son of Man like Matthew does, he would also have interested mainly the Jews. So instead, John chose the title Logos for Jesus because it was something they were already familiar with!
The great Greek philosopher Plato who lived around 400 BC had a very exalted idea of God. But he also had very negative idea of reality as we know it. If the great God is pure and matter is evil, how could the great God “dirty his hands” in the process of creating? Plato’s solution was a personality he called “the Word.” The Word was great enough to commune with God yet humble enough to get involved in the messiness of material things. Years later in Jesus’ day, another great philosopher called Philo saw a parallel between the Jewish concept of wisdom in Proverbs 8 and the Greek concept of Word. For Philo, the Word was a “second God”, the High Priest in the heavenly sanctuary, an intercessor with God, the Law Giver, the Mediator, the Sustainer, the eldest son, the image of God and get this—the second Adam. Do any of those titles sound familiar to you? They should! They’re all used in the New Testament to describe Jesus!
John, in the Prologue to his Gospel, is saying through the contemporary music of the time, through well known literary structures, and from familiar language that “This Word, whom you pagans worship, is the subject of my book. Reading this book will help you understand Him and serve Him better.”
Isn’t that amazing? I don’t know about you, but I think that’s pretty cool! It teaches me that we should not expect people to appreciate the gospel we preach unless we first make serious attempts to understand them and the way they think. The message of the Prologue of John 1 tells me meeting people where they are is so important to Jesus that He inspired John to explain that three different ways in 18 verses. Why? So that people might become believers and children of God! Even if they’ve never personally seen Jesus before. His word, because He is The Word, is as good as His touch.
So your mission this week, should you choose to accept it, is to meet people where they are. Will you do that? I pray you will be open to hearing God speak. Will you please do me a favor too? Would you please read ahead with me for next time John 1:19-28? And right before I wrap up n ext week, I’ll give you a chance to share with us what you heard the word of God speak. It has to be short. Venom free. And based on John 1:19-28. It’s not a critique of me or anyone else. It’s just what you heard God speak to you. Whatever the source. From music. Structure. Language. Whatever you heard God speak to you. Everybody understand? You guys with me on this? Trust me, it’ll be fun. What’s our homework passage? Let’s stand and sing our closing song off the screen since its not in our hymnal. “Heaven Came Down And Glory Filled My Soul”
Our Father in Heaven, thank you for meeting us where we are. For reminding us that darkness is on the run. Regardless of how things seem sometimes. Remind us to pray and keep praying. Help us to sing and keep singing. As we leave this place today, but never your presence, would you please speak to us. For we want to hear from you. And sincerely serve you with all our hearts, Amen.