Hundreds of thousands of people in Australia need to find a new life. For they find life at present holds little satisfaction. It is not just a new lifestyle, a more relaxed way of living, a more healthy way of eating, but a more purposeful and meaningful existence. It is finding life as it was meant to be lived.
Many of these people feel they cannot do anything about their situation. They feel trapped. One out of every six families in New South Wales is headed by a sole parent. Do you think they want to be like that? They are doing their best, but their situation is such they are powerless to do anything about it. Is it not the same with those who are unemployed? They may be trying for work, but feel it is hopeless and they are trapped and utterly powerless to get out of that situation. Or what of people locked into financial debt? Or people who get trapped because they have no moral moorings and they were swept along with the tide? They too feel life has passed them by. One thing they have in common: they want a new life. How do you find a new life? I want to share how, through the grace of God, you might find new life and begin all over again with meaning and purpose.
John's Gospel has been used by generations of people to find new life. However some deconstructionists and revisionists have been trying to identify the original teaching of Jesus. The Jesus Seminar, in USA, decided most of what we have attributed to Jesus was not spoken by Him but by very clever followers in the few years between His death and the first written manuscripts. Although this window of time is only very brief, these unknown people managed to invent the sayings we today ascribe to Jesus.
These scholars agree the Gospel of John was written in the last decade of the first century. However they say it was not written by John and contains not one original saying of Jesus of Nazareth. If they are right, one of the world's most inspiring books, that has brought meaning to countless millions is now authorless and without the words of Jesus Himself. For many this means no Gospel, no hope!
However, recent studies by scholars who up-hold the Scriptures as divinely inspired have researched new discoveries supporting our belief the Gospel of John contains the words of Jesus. In John's Gospel, a distinctive theme has been the contrast between believers and unbelievers as the children of light and darkness, of truth and falsehood, and of Jesus being the Light of the world. The revisionists argue this shows Greek influence of a later date. But one Dead Sea Scroll revealed that at the time of Jesus such terminology was used, showing Jesus could have used such words and ideas Himself. Then a piece of John's Gospel used in a church in Egypt eighteen hundred years ago and dated about 100-125AD was discovered showing the Gospel of John had circulated for some time and was used 100 miles south of Cairo.
Just as Robinson Crusoe deduced from a footprint in the sand a man with two feet was also on his island, so this piece of manuscript indicates the use of John's Gospel at a very early date, far up the Nile and a long way from Ephesus in Turkey where John wrote it. (Wilson, p21) The older a manuscript is, the more likely it is to be the more accurate account of the event. For example, the notes you wrote at the time of a motor car accident are more valuable than your recollections told to your lawyer a year later.
There is less likelihood of distortion the closer you are to the event. Scholars who have rejected many of the sayings of Jesus saying they were the composition of the early church at a later date must face the new discoveries of even older manuscripts which bear the identical words of Jesus. The discovery of pieces of Mark's Gospel among the Dead Sea Scrolls hidden in caves from the Romans before 73AD and the discovery of a scrap of Matthew's Gospel from 70AD shows the written records are older and more accurate than the guesses of many revisionists. (Thiede, p144-6) The abundance of manuscript pieces from the second century from around the Mediterranean show early Christians carried little booklets or codices bearing the words of Jesus with them. (Wilson p21)
John's Gospel is an eyewitness account, with phrases like, "we beheld his glory". There are also myriad details only an eye witness would notice: "for this purpose six stone water jars were there....three or four miles out on the stormy lake...there is a boy here who has five loaves of barley bread and two fish...and the soldiers made a crown of thorny branches and put it on his head". John saw it all.
John knows Jerusalem well and describes the places where various activities took place: at the sheep gate, the pool of Siloam, in Solomon's Porch, by the brook Kidron, the Stone Pavement, commonly called Golgotha, the garden of Joseph of Aramathea, and so on. He also mentions all the Jewish Festivals that only a Jew would know: "the Passover...the feast of Tabernacles...The Feast of Dedication...Sabbath keeping". John knew the topography of Palestine and its various political divisions. His details about towns and villages are all precise.
John is aware of local historical events. He speaks of John the Baptist, Herod rebuilding of the Temple, Annas and Caiaphas the High Priests, Pontius Pilate the governor. John's Gospel purposed to win people to Jesus Christ. John 20:30-31 "Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But 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." The reason is obvious: the end of his life was spent in the Ephesus Church on the western coast of Turkey. He was taken then to the island of Patmos under the persecution of the Romans. He was plunged into boiling oil. He wanted to leave a true record that believers might find new life in Jesus.
The magnificent opening, in the finest classical sense, points to Jesus. John 1:1-5 "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it."
1. JOHN TELLS US WHO JESUS IS. 1"In the beginning was the Word", a phrase which reminds us of the opening of Genesis, "In the beginning, God created" (Gen 1:1). John is writing about the new creation, a new beginning, a re-birth for humankind. His use of terms like life and light and darkness recall the story of creation. At the very foundation of the universe, the Word existed with God. There never was a moment when the Word was not, nor anything which did not depend upon Him for existence, including our physical life.
1 "The Word was with God;" John used this term "The Word" for Jesus Christ. It is unique to him and pervades the whole Gospel. To understand this term is to understand the significance of Jesus Christ. John uses the term "The Word" so naturally that we are not sure if he were thinking of his Jewish culture and the scriptures of his up-bringing, or the Greek language and culture which he spoke where he lived. Among the Jews "The Word" was seen as God's creative power and attributes. When God spoke things came into being. It means that God expressed Himself fully in Jesus Christ; the wisdom and power of God was expressed as the man Jesus among us. Among the Greeks "The Word" was understood as the soul of the universe, the mind behind creation, the all-pervading rational principle behind everything.
Both mean that behind the universe is not some remote, cold power, but a warm and loving God who now expressed Himself among us as Jesus. "The Word was with God." The Word was from the beginning, separate and distinct in personality, but one in power and relationship. "The Word was God." No clearer statement exists about the divinity of Jesus Christ. He was of one substance as the Father. "He was with God in the beginning." Paul had written: Col 1:17 "He is before all things, and in him all things hold together." This doctrine describes the pre-existence of Christ, who from the beginning was with God, was God, and was the agent of creation and the source of all life and the enlightenment that makes us human. That life-giving first principle, the Christ of all eternity, John 1:14 "became flesh and made his dwelling among us." He was Jesus who came to save us from our sins. Jesus embodied the power, the spirit and the divinity of Almighty God. This was an awesome thing to say.
2. JOHN TELLS US WHAT JESUS DID. 3 "Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made." Long before He uttered His first cry in the manger of Bethlehem, Jesus Christ the Word, had been the agent of creation, bringing into being all that is. Paul had written to the church in Colossae: 1:16 "For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him."
What assurance this brings us. The universe, long seen as cold and remorseless where suffering and death were random and meaningless, now had a warmth, a caring love and a purpose. God now had a face. When Joy Gresham married C.S.Lewis the great Christian apologist, she was already dying of cancer. In a moment in "Shadowlands" when they question why God should allow so much suffering, she says with weak voice but bright humour of her situation: "I am a Jew, a divorcee, broke and have cancer. Does God give a discount?" When we know that God was in Christ, we know that although suffering may be intense, we are not alone in a cold universe, but behind everything there is a loving and caring God.
3. JOHN TELLS US WHAT JESUS GIVES. 4 "In him was life, and that life was the light of men." When the Spirit moved over the earth God created man, and "God breathed life-giving breath into his nostrils and the man began to live". (Gen 2:7). Christ brought life to living things: "and that life was the light of men." Not just physical light, but the light of knowledge distinguishing humans from the animal world; self-awareness and intellectual perception, that enlightenment mentally, psychologically and spiritually.
Christ is the source of light bringing life to mankind. He is the source of the ability of humankind to look within, to become aware of the ability to choose the good or the evil, to have aspirations and desires, hope and despair; to be devilish or to be God-like.
Scholars in "The Third Quest For The Historical Jesus" can dismiss Him as a remarkable teacher, sage, cynic, poet, philosopher, religious leader and one of the most significant influences in the history of mankind. We can relegate Jesus into a historical box labelled: "The Most Influential Man To Have Ever Lived." We can do that. We may do that. But not if we hold the Bible to be the Word of God. That written Word does not allow us to shrink the significance of the living Word who became flesh and dwelt among us. Not if we claim to be a Christian. That claim can only be made by accepting Jesus Christ as Lord, who dwelt among us full of grace and truth. If we hold the Bible to be true, and believe that Jesus was God's Son and Saviour we must honour Him as Lord, the Word who was with God, who was God, through whom all things were created, and who is the source of life, that life that brings light into the world.
For when you accept Jesus Christ as Lord, you discover your life is new in Him. New Life! That's what we share. New Life in Christ! John W Petersen wrote:
"New life in Christ! Abundant and free!
What glories shine, What joys are mine,
What wondrous blessings I see!
My past with its sin, The searching and strife,
Forever gone - There's a bright new dawn!
For in Christ I have found new life!"
We have been made alive to God in Christ Jesus.
REFERENCES USED IN THIS SERMON:
THE FIVE GOSPELS R W Funk, R W Hoover Macmillan 1993
THE TRUTH ABOUT JESUS P Barnett Aquilla 1994
JESUS UNDER FIRE M J Wilkins Zondervan 1995
JESUS:THE EVIDENCE I Wilson Weidenfeld 1996
THE JESUS PAPYRUS C P Thiede Weidenfeld 1996
DISCOVERIES FROM THE TIME OF JESUS A Millard Lion 1990
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