Joel C. Rosenberg
2013 Epicenter Conference — Jerusalem, Israel — July 5, 2013
Text as prepared for delivery:
We have considered the power of the Word to change a leader. We have considered the power of the Word to change a nation. Let us now consider the power of the Word to change the world – because “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us,” so to preach the Word is to preach Jesus.
Please open your Bibles to the Gospel of John. We’ll read verses one through fourteen.
John 1:1-3 – “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 came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.”
What’s striking about John’s Gospel account is how different it begins from the others.
Matthew begins with “the record of a genealogy of Jesus the Messiah.”(1:1) He begins with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and traces the royal lineage from through King David, and right on to Jesus. Why? Because Matthew’s mission is to portray Jesus to the Jews as the fulfillment of the messianic prophecies, and thus the true Anointed One — the Messiah, the King.
Mark doesn’t use a genealogy at all. Why not? Because he is portraying Jesus to mankind as the Suffering Servant, and servants don’t need genealogies.
- “For…the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” (10:45)
- “And [Jesus] began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.” (8:31)
Luke provides a genealogy, but he doesn’t merely trace Jesus’ lineage back to Abraham. Rather, he goes all the way back to “Adam, the son of God.” (3:38) Why? Because Luke is portraying Jesus to the Greco-Roman world as the ultimate, perfect, sinless man.
John, however, is writing the last of the four Gospels. He is writing somewhere between 85 and 95 A.D. It is a time of danger and tumult, a time of great attack on the believers. It is a time not just of physical persecution, but one in which the very authority and reliability of the Bible and the Gospel message was under great attack. Satan had unleashed false teachers and they were everywhere, trying to undermine both the divinity of Jesus, and His humanity.
So, under the guidance and inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the Apostle John begins his Gospel account by tracing Jesus’ lineage further back than any of the others — “In the beginning….” John makes is crystal clear that “in the beginning”:
- Jesus was with God.
- Jesus was God.
- Jesus is God.
- Jesus created all things.
- Nothing that was made was made without Him.
- He was not made.
- He was eternally pre-existent as the second Member of the Trinity.
John leaves no room to say that:
- Jesus was “just a good man” but not the Messiah;
- or Jesus was “just the Messiah,” but not the Son of God;
- or Jesus was just the “Son of God,” but not fully God Himself, God the Eternal One, God the Creator.
John begins his Gospel with bold, direct clarity that Jesus is absolutely Divine. John declares that Jesus is the very God of very God.
What’s more, John ends his Gospel the exact same way. “[T]hese things have been written,” he concludes in John 20:31, “so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ [Messiah], the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.”
This is John’s goal – to be clear about who Jesus is.
- he tells you what he’s going to say
- then he says it
- then he tells you what he just said
- because he does not want you to miss the point
But John doesn’t simply want us to understand that Jesus is God. John also wants us to know that Jesus is the “Logos” — The Word.
Why didn’t John start with, “In the beginning was Jesus, and Jesus was with God, and Jesus was God”? Wouldn’t that be true? Absolutely. Then why not just write it that way?
Because John is an evangelist – he is building a case – and he is appealing to the Jew first, and then the Greek.
- By opening his account with a focus on “The Word,” he is certainly appealing to the minds and hearts of the Greek-speaking Gentile world.
- “Logos” — The Word — was a powerful and enduring concept in Greek philosophy.
- In 500 B.C., the father of Greek philosophy – Heraclitus –first used the term “Logos” to describe the divine thought, or the divine plan, that governs a changing universe.
- Heraclitus taught that before the world came into being was the “Logos” – the thought, the idea, the plan.
- He didn’t think of it as person, and certainly not as a singular God. The Greeks were polytheists. But he did believe the world began and was guided by a central cosmic thought, “the Word.”
- And he deeply influenced the writings of the leading philosophers to come, including Plato and Aristotle.
So the Holy Spirit directed John to explain what the “Logos” really is:
- not just a thought, but The Thinker
- not just a plan, but The Planner
- not just a philosophy, but a Person – the One True God
So this preamble to John’s Gospel would have really caught the ear and the imagination of the Greek-speaking Gentile world of the Roman Empire.
But John wasn’t simply appealing to the Greeks. He was also most definitely appealing to the Jews.
- The concept of “the word” is central to the Tanakh (Old Testament).
- 244 times the phrase “the word of the Lord” or “the word of God” is used in the Tanakh.
- What’s fascinating to me – and what many people don’t realize – is that the specific expression “The Word” as a descriptor of the Lord God Himself was a term very familiar to Jews in the first century.
- Why? Because when the Hebrew Scriptures were ready every Sabbath in the synagogues, what was also read – verse by verse – was the Aramaic translation of the Hebrew Bible known as the “Targum.” But a Targum was not simply a direct translation of the Scriptures but rather an “amplified version” – not a commentary, per se, but a version designed to help the average Jewish person understand what the text was really saying.
- And what’s remarkable is that beginning a few centuries before Jesus – and occurring for centuries after Jesus — the Targum often replaced the term “Jehovah” or “the Lord” with the term, “The Word.”
Example from Genesis 17:7
- NASB — “I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you, throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your descendants after you.”
- Targum Neofiti — “And I will establish my covenant between my Word and you, and your descendants after you, throughout their generations, for an eternal covenant, to be God to you and to your descendants after you.”
Example from Deuteronomy 32:43
- NASB — “Rejoice, O nations, with His people; for He will avenge the blood of His servants, and He will render vengeance on His adversaries, and will atone for His land and His people.”
- Targum Pseudo-Jonathan — “….by His Word He will make atonement for His land and His people.”
Example from Isaiah 55:3
- NASB — “Incline your ear and come to Me. Listen, that you may live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you according to the faithful mercies shown to David.”
- Targum Neofiti — “Incline your ear and receive My Word…..”
So this preamble to John’s Gospel would also have really caught the ear and the imagination of the Aramaic-speaking Jewish world of ancient Palestine.
The Life and The Light
John 1:4-9 – “In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. There came a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to testify about the Light so that all might believe through him. He was not the Light, but he came to testify about the Light. There was the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man.”
The Apostle John is steadily building his case, brick by brick, verse by verse.
- That Jesus is “The Word.”
- That The Word is God.
- That The Word is the Divine Creator.
- Thus, Jesus is God and He is the Divine Creator.
But then the Apostle goes further. He makes the case that Jesus is not a God that simply set the universe into motion and then sits back and takes no interest in the affairs of men. On the contrary, the Apostle makes the case that:
- Jesus is actively involved in the affairs of men.
- Jesus is not only the Creator of physical life, but in Him is spiritual life – He can give true and eternal life to those who are perishing in their sins.
- What’s more, Jesus is the Light of the world – He can give true Light to people lost in the darkness.
Here’s one way Jesus did that – He chose and sent a man named John ahead of Him
- to be His witness
- to testify to the truth
- to point people to the Way, the Truth, and the Life
- to point people to the Light
- John wasn’t the Life – he pointed to Life.
- John wasn’t the Light – he pointed to the Light.
- John wasn’t the Prophet – he pointed to the Prophet.
- John wasn’t the Messiah – he pointed to the Messiah.
We should note here that the Apostle John is not referring to himself here. Rather, he is referring to John the Baptist. Indeed, whenever the Apostle, mentions the word “John” in his Gospel account, he is referring to John the Baptist. He never refers to himself by name. He doesn’t want to draw attention to himself. As a disciple of John the Baptist, who then became a disciple of Jesus, and then one of our Lord’s most trusted Apostles, John only wants to point to Jesus, never himself.
What I love is that as the Apostle builds his case verse by verse, chapter by chapter, he uses statements from Jesus and actions by Jesus to prove his initial point that Jesus is God, and Jesus is Life, and Jesus is Light.
- In John 3, Jesus explains to a Jewish leader how to find eternal life by becoming born again. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (3:16)
- In John 5, Jesus said, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me; and [yet] you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life.” (5:39-40)
- In John 8, Jesus said, “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.” (8:12)
- In John 11, Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, and said, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?” (11:25-26)
- In John 14, Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and no one comes to the Father except through Me.” (14:6)
I could go on, but I think the point has been made – the Apostle states the intention of his Gospel account in the very first chapter, and then he carefully, methodically builds his case.
- he describes seven miracles performed by Jesus.
- he relates seven times that Jesus says, “I am….”
- he quotes the testimony of seven eyewitnesses who said Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God (beginning with John the Baptist)
But the Apostle is also honest that not everyone will receive the truth about Jesus.
John 1:10-13 – “He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor the will of man, but of God.”
Are there any verses in all of the New Testament sadder than these?
Jesus physically created the world by the power of the Word (He spoke, and the world came into being) – yet the world rejected Him.
Jesus physically created the nations of the world – yet the people of the nations (that is, the Greek-speaking Roman world) did not know who He was or receive Him as Messiah, Savior, Lord and King.
Jesus physically created “His own” – the Jewish people, the “chosen people” – yet by and large the Jewish people, the nation of Israel, did not receive Him either. They didn’t understand He had fulfilled their own prophecies. They didn’t understand He had come to bring them abundant life and eternal life. They were walking in darkness. They were not reading the Word. Or understanding the Word. They weren’t connecting the dots. And they missed Him.
And yet….not everyone missed Him. In His grace, God opened the eyes of a handful of people – men and women – so they could suddenly see the Light. They could suddenly see the Truth. They suddenly experienced the Life.
And to as many as received him, only handful of people at first, to them Jesus gave the right (power, authority, ability) to be born again, to be born from above into the very family of God. Not by their own will, or brilliance, or insight, or intuition – but by the will of God, by the power of God. And this is the good news — this is the great hope – this is the power of the Word to change the world
John 1:14 – “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
This is the Gospel, the good news:
- that Jesus is the “Logos”
- Jesus is The Word
- Jesus is God
- Jesus is the Creator
- Jesus is Life
- Jesus is Light
- Jesus is God who became flesh and dwelt among us
- He “tabernacled” or “tented” or “camped” among us.
- He was fully God.
- He was fully man.
- Not everyone will understand this.
- Not everyone will receive this.
- But if you do – Jew or Gentile – and if you repent and receive Him, Jesus will save you.
- If you repent of your sins and receive Him for who He really is, Jesus will adopt you into His family, and you will become a child of the Living God.
- You will experience His grace.
- You will experience His truth.
- You will see His glory.
- You will live with Him forever.
Are there any verses in all the Bible more wonderful then these?
This good news is for Jews. But it is not for Jews alone. “But as many as received Him….” This good news is for Arabs, Bedouins, Druze, and Persians. This is good news for all peoples, tribes and tongues. Anyone who hears the Word, and believes, and repents of their sins, and receives Jesus as Messiah, Lord and Master can and will be saved.
This is very good news. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” We are not living in darkness. We are not alone without God and His wisdom. God came in person to tell us how to have life and peace. He came in personal to show us to live and how to love. And then He gave us the Word of God in the form of a book. It is called the Bible. It is the only book inspired by God Himself. It is the only book that is a “lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path.” (Psalm 119:105) It is the only book that is full of the “word of life.” (I John 1:1)
I believe this is the great challenge of our time: to help the Church rediscover the power of the Word, and to recommit ourselves to proclaim the Word – all of it, from Genesis to Revelation – without fear, without apology, but with authority and great urgency.
The Lord said through the Hebrew prophet Isaiah, “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there without watering the earth and making it bear and sprout, and furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater; so will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; it will not return to Me empty, without accomplishing what I desire, and without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:10-11)
The Lord said through the writer of Hebrews, “For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12)
The Lord said through the Apostle Paul, “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.” (Romans 10:17)
We need more people in the Church today who truly believe in the power of the Word to save souls and transform lives.
We need to freshly commit ourselves – as those who teach the Word and who train others to teach the Word – to follow the Great Commission and teach people to obey all that Christ commanded us.(Matthew 28:19)
Let us be able to say what the Apostle Paul told the church in Ephesus, “For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.” (Acts 20:27)
In our closing panel, we will discuss with these dear pastors how they approach teaching the Word, and what kind of fruit they have seen from teaching the “whole counsel of God” with thoroughness and vigor.But as I close this message, let me share with you a personal testimony of how I came to really discover power of the Word in my own life. [brief testimony]