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 anything 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.
During the four Sundays of Advent I hope to bring four messages from John 1:1–18. The Christian purpose of the Advent season is to focus our attention on the great reality described in verses 1 and 14. At the end of verse 1 John says, "The Word was God." And at the beginning of verse 14 he says, "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us." Everything we are and believe as Christians depends upon this: that Jesus Christ is God and Jesus Christ is man. Fully God, fully human. Everything depends on this. So even though Christmas as a Christian festival may not be taught in the Bible, the Christian meaning given to Christmas is the very foundation of the Bible.
And the goal of the Bible and the goal of God in becoming human and the goal of this gospel of John are all the same. John 20:31, "These things are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name." So if my messages are going to be faithful to John's purpose in this gospel, my goal must be to help you believe in the Son of God and have eternal life. That is the direction you should pray for me.
The Point of John 1:1–5
We begin today with verses 1–5 and I think I can make the point of these verses clearest by treating them in reverse order. Here's what I see. In verse 5 John says, "The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it." (Some translations say, "have not understood it." But the one other place John uses this Greek word, not counting 8:3, 4, is in John 12:35 which says, "Walk while you have the light, lest the darkness overtake you.") This is what I would call the "invincibility of light." It is not overcome. So you could label verse 5: "Light is triumphant over darkness."
But why is this the case? Why does darkness not overcome the light? How can we be sure that light will go on and completely overcome the darkness? This is what verses 1–4 are written to answer. They give three reasons why the light will triumph over the darkness. So let's focus for a moment on the conflict of light and dark in verse 5 and then look at the three reasons in verses 1–4 why light will win.
Light Triumphs over Darkness
When John says in verse 5 that "the light shines in the darkness," he means that the Word has become flesh. Jesus has come into a dark world and is the light of the world. In John 8:12 Jesus says, "I am the light of the world." Right here in verse 9 it says, "The true light that enlightens every man was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world knew him not. He came to his own home, and his own people received him not." So it's plain that Jesus is the one spoken of. He is the light in verse 5. He is the one who shines in the darkness.
The darkness is the world of evil and unbelief and death and judgment. John 3:19 says, "This is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil." So darkness is the power of evil and unbelief.
This Makes a Tremendous Difference
So what verse 5 is saying is that Jesus Christ, the light of the world has entered into the darkness of evil and unbelief and lostness and death, and this darkness does not overcome Jesus. Now that makes a tremendous difference to those of us who believe in Jesus. In John 12:46 Jesus says, "I have come as light into the world that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness." So believers have passed from darkness to light. John 12:36 says, "While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of the light." When you believe in Jesus, not only do you leave the darkness and enter the light; you actually join the family of the light—you become children of the light. Paul said, "Once you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord; walk as children of light" (Ephesians 5:8).
So it makes a tremendous difference to us if the light triumphs, or the darkness overcomes it. And that's what verse 5 makes clear: "The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it." The light will triumph and that means Jesus will triumph and all those who believe in him, the children of the light, will triumph. We need to hear this today in America, because darkness is gaining ground on numerous fronts in our land.
Darkness Seems to Be Gaining Ground
More and more often we read stories that ten years ago would have been unthinkable. Two weeks ago Time magazine reported that a pair of lesbians, Ruth Frost and Phyllis Zillhart (who were trained at Luther Northwestern Seminary here in the Twin Cities), were called as co-assistant pastors of St. Francis Lutheran Church in San Francisco. Michael Hiller, another pastor at the church said, "This is not an issue of morals . . . it's an issue of justice."
Study such sentences carefully. They embody the spirit of our age. When justice is divorced from morality, when rights of individuals are separated from right and wrong, the only definition you have left for justice is the right for every individual to do as he pleases. And the end of that road is anarchy and barbarism.
We are moving fast in that direction as a culture. But I will stake my life on the truth of John 1:5. The light shines in the darkness—Jesus shines, the gospel shines, the church shines—and the darkness will not overcome it. How can we be sure?
How Can We Be Sure of Light's Triumph?
John gives three reasons.
1. The Light Is the Life of the Son of God
First, consider verse 4: "In him was life, and the life was the light of men." This means that the light that shines in the darkness is the light of LIFE (John 8:12). The life of the Son IS the light of the world. The first reason the light will triumph over the darkness is that it is life. It is living light. What does that mean?
Well, if the life of the Son of God IS the light that shines in the darkness (which is what verse 4 says), then there are at least four things we can say about this light.
- First, the light of life has energy and power because the life of the Son has energy and power.
- Second, the light of life has purpose and motion. It is not static like a lamppost or a lighthouse on the shore. It plans and moves. It shines now here, now there. It is alive with the life of the Son.
- Third, the light of life grows and expands. That is the way the life of the Son of God is. His life is a fountain of life (Psalm 36:9). Once the rays start coming out of this light, they extend farther and farther and farther.
- Fourth, the light of life begets offspring. John 12:36, "Believe in the light, that you may become sons of the light."
So the first reason the light shines in the darkness and the darkness does not overcome it is that this light is living—it has energy and purposefulness and growth and reproduction. It is not a static thing, like a stoplight that might be ignored. The light that shines in the world today is the very life of the Son of God.
To which someone might say, "So what? Maybe the powers of darkness are just as strong as his life?" That leads us to the second reason we can be sure the darkness will not overcome the light.
2. The Life Is the Life of the Creator of All Things
It's given in verse 3: "All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made." Now the "him" in this verse is the same him as in verse 4: "In him was life and the life was the light of men." So the point is this: the energetic, purposeful, growing, reproductive life that shines in the darkness is the life of none other than the One through whom all things were made. The life that shines in the light is the life of the Creator.
So we know that the powers of darkness are not as strong as this life because this life created the powers of darkness. "Without him was not anything made that was made." And no created thing is more powerful than its creator.
Someone might say, "Isn't the atom bomb more powerful than the men who created it? Can't the atom bomb destroy its maker?" The answer is that there is an infinite difference between, on the one hand, making a bomb out of materials that exist already and which are controlled by laws you did not write, and, on the other hand, creating out of nothing the very materials of the universe and the laws that control them. If you can make something out of nothing, you can always turn that something into nothing. And therefore the Creator always has the upper hand in his world. He will triumph.
And the powers of darkness know this, because when Jesus came to the Gadarene demoniacs in Matthew 8:29, they cried out, "What have you to do with us, O Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?" "Before the time!" They know a TIME is set for their destruction and for their everlasting consignment to hell. (See Luke 22:53.) They know the light will triumph.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it, first, because the light is the light of energetic, purposeful, growing, reproducing life, and, second, because that life is the life through whom everything was made—including the angelic powers that fell into darkness.
3. This Light and Life Is God
That leaves one last reason for why we can be sure that the light will not be overcome by the darkness. Not only is the light a living light, and not only is the life of this light the life of God's Word through whom he created all things, but this Word, this life, this light, IS GOD! And God Almighty cannot be overcome.
Verse 1: "In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God." "The Word was with God" means that they are distinct Persons and can fellowship with one another. But "the Word was God" means that they are one God, not two. We hold fast to the biblical mystery: God the Father and God the Son have such a unity that they are one God not two, and such a distinction that they are two Persons not one.
Be of Good Cheer
The practical point is this: the light cannot be overcome by the darkness because
- the light is alive—it's the light of life; and
- through this life—this living Word—all things were made; and
- this living Word IS God.
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 anything made that was made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
So be of good cheer. Christ has overcome the world of darkness (John 16:33). "Believe in the light that you may become sons of the light" (John 12:36). Take the offensive this season. Raid the darkness. It cannot overcome the children of light.