May 12, 2019 at First Presbyterian Church of Unionville (PCA)
[John 1:6-13 ESV] 6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. 8 He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light. 9 The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. 12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
Our sermon today addresses our text from John’s Gospel in three headings. (Not three points, but three headings). And they are: (1) The Witness, (2) The True Light, (3) and Born of God. These sound to me like good titles for a movie trilogy: The Witness, The True Light, and Born of God.
HEADING 1: THE WITNESS
First, under our heading of “The Witness” we read:
6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. 8 He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.
The Witness is John the Baptist. And he is already well-known to readers of John’s Gospel. This was the fourth and final Gospel written, and it is written with knowledge of the prior three. Both the author (the Apostle John) and the readers already knew Matthew, Mark, and Luke. And so John the Baptist can be introduced quickly without much explanation. In fact, he is not even called “the Baptist” or “the Baptizer,” but simply called the familiar “John.” It might be worth noting as well that whenever “John” is spoken of in this Gospel the reference is to John the Baptist. The author, the Apostle John, is in fact never mentioned by name in the Gospel. So the witness referred to in the text is John the Baptist.
It was prophesied in the Old Testament that such a witness would precede the coming of the messiah.
In the book of the prophet Malachi we read:
[Mal 3:1 ESV] 1 “Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts.
And from Isaiah:
[Isa 40:3 ESV] 3 A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
John the Baptist—the witness—is the herald who announces the coming of Christ. He is the voice in the wilderness, and he is the messenger of the covenant. He is the one sent to bear witness to the light, that all might believe through him.
He himself was not the light, but came to bear witness to the light. The text is very clear that while John the Baptist is an important figure in God’s plan, he is not himself the messiah; he is not the light of the world.
It might seem quite unlikely that anyone would make such a mistake and confuse the witness with the light. But the Apostle John gives the warning: do not confuse the witness with the light. We might ask, was his warning superfluous, unnecessary? Who could possibly confuse the witness with the light?
Well, there was, and is, in fact, such a group. They are called the Mandaeans, and they live today primarily in Iraq. The Mandaeans are said to reject Jesus as the Messiah but revere John the Baptist as their chief prophet. They have made the very error that our Gospel here warns about.
It is true that the Bible tells us in Matthew 11:11 that John the Baptist was the greatest man who had ever lived up to Jesus’ time. Jesus himself said, “Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist.”
But no man, not even John the Baptist, is so great as to be himself the light.
He is the witness, heralding the coming King. All kings have heralds announcing their coming so that the people may be prepared. And the King that John the Baptist announces is Jesus Christ, the King of Kings who rules and defends us, and restrains and conquers all of his and our enemies.
John is not the true light. He is the witness of the true light, Jesus Christ.
HEADING 2: THE TRUE LIGHT
For our second heading then—“the True Light”—we continue in the Gospel reading:
9 The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him.
The moon doesn’t produce its own light, but it reflects the light of the Sun. In the same way, any light that man has is merely the reflected light of Christ. Calvin explains: “Whatever is luminous in heaven and in earth borrows its splendor from another object; but Christ is the light, shining from itself and by itself.”
Christ does not reflect any other light, but is Himself the true light.
Now, with respect to verse 9 of our text, there is genuine debate over whether the phrase “coming into the world” is meant to apply to all men or to Jesus. That is, some believe that it is referring to Jesus; He is the true light, He enlightens all men, and He is coming into the world. But others believe that the phrase is meant to apply to all men. That is, Christ enlightens all men who come into the world.
The ESV translation which we are using makes the phrase apply to Christ. It is Christ that is coming into the world.
But the KJV makes the phrase apply to “every man.” Christ enlightens every man who comes into the world.
There is a grammatical reason to prefer the King James translation here. In the original language the phrase “coming into the world” immediately follows the term “every man.” Grammatically, it is more likely that “coming into the world” is to apply to “every man” and not in this instance to “the true light” (Jesus Christ) who in one sense has always been in the world. In fact, the next verse tell us that “He was in the world.”
So the King James translates the verse as: “[That] was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.”
And we should understand this in conformity with the Confession to be referring to the light of nature, those sparks of knowledge given to every man such that every man knows the existence of God and the difference between good and evil.
Calvin explains: “For we know that men have this peculiar excellence which raises them above other animals, that they are endued with reason and intelligence, and that they carry the distinction between right and wrong engraven on their conscience. There is no man, therefore, whom some perception of the eternal light does not reach.”
Every man who comes into the world is given a certain light.
But even though the light was in the world, and the world was made through the light, yet the world did not know the light.
People don’t usually know that they are in darkness. They take pride in being “open minded” or independent thinkers. There is general skepticism in our society against believing anything. Skepticism, doubt, is so prevalent today that you, Christian, are the rebel. Generations ago children might rebel against their parents and not attend church. Today, though the number might be few, the rebels against society and against parents are those who DO attend church. These are the rebels. These have seen the light. But the rest remain in darkness, and do not even know that they are in darkness.
A story I found in a book of Appalachian Mountain Humors attests to this fact. People don’t usually know that they are in darkness. Now, while this story comes from a book of humor, I don’t know that it is particularly humorous. Maybe you will think so. But anyways it should help to prove the point that many people don’t know they are in darkness.
In the story a missionary went to see a particular Appalachian mountain woman and he asked her if she was lost. “Why, no,” she said, “I’ve lived here all of my life.” “It sounds to me as if you’re living in darkness,” he observed. “Yeah, that’s right. I’ve been trying to get my husband to cut a new window over on the south side of the house.”
She didn’t get it. He was talking about spiritual darkness.
So he continued, asking: “Do you have any Presbyterians around?” She responded, so in the dark that she didn’t even know what a Presbyterian was, saying “I don’t think so, but my husband traps all kinds of varmints, and he’s got their hides nailed up on the barn. You can go out there and see if he got one of them.”
Now maybe we Presbyterians might annoy society just as varmints do. But this is because we have an important message to tell. The True Light is Jesus Christ. And from this hilltop we want that message to shine forth so that all might believe. This was the purpose of John’s writing. He writes this things so that we might believe and through this belief we might have salvation in Jesus Christ, the True Light.
And so we have now our first two heading: The Witness (which is John the Baptist), and the True Light (which is Jesus).
And now, like any good trilogy we come to the third and most import heading. Born of God.
HEADING 3: BORN OF GOD
For our third heading—Born of God—we read:
11 He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. 12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
Jesus came to his own people, the Jews. Jesus himself was of Jewish lineage as his genealogy shows in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. But also, when it is said that Jesus came to his own people, we must understand that the God had long made his covenant with the Jews. They were, in that sense, the people of God.
But the Jews in large measure rejected Jesus as the Messiah. Not all of them did. Most of the disciples were Jewish and much of the early church was Jewish. Even, we find in the Bible, some of the Pharisees came to believe in Jesus. But the nation of Israel as a whole did not come to accept Christ, the king heralded by John the Baptist. And so here, possibly or probably surprising the Jews, God grafts in the Gentiles, the non-Jews. The point is this: ANYONE was believes in Jesus is given the right to become a child of God. Some translations say “right” others say “authority” or “power”, but the point is that people who were not of God’s covenant people Israel, are now Children of God.
There is an adoption that God undertakes. He not only justifies us who believe in Jesus Christ, but he adopts us into his family. He not only pardons our sins as a kind judge might do, but he takes us into His own house! God is not merely a judge, he is our Father! He has adopted us into the greatest family, His family. And in His house are many rooms.
When a child is adopted in this world, the parents may spend many thousands of dollars in the process. And they might also spend many months. They sacrifice greatly to adopt a child and bring that child into their family. God sacrificed none other than Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son, so that we might be adopted in His family. Jesus spend not many months, but his entire life on earth giving active obedience to God the Father, and, in the end, passive obedience on the cross for our salvation. His sacrifice was great. His own life. And he made this sacrifice for the joy set out before him that we might be adopted into the family of God.
Now we read in verse 12:
12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God,
Here believing is equated with receiving. To believe in Christ is to receive Christ. And this requires a new birth. It is a package deal. You cannot be born again and then not believe in Christ. Nor can you believe in Christ unless you are a born again.
How then is one born again? We Christians use this phase, “I am a born-again believer.” How is one born again? This is the crucial question that John now addresses.
We find in verse 13 this excellent statement: “who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” [REPEAT: “who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”]
How then does one become a child of God? How is one reborn?
Well, there are three ways given here which don’t work, and one that does.
not of blood,
nor of the will of the flesh
nor of the will of man,
but of God.
The first of the ways in which one DOES NOT become a child of God is, as John says, “not of blood.” What does this mean? “Not of blood.” John is referring to the nobleness of one’s lineage. You are not a child of God merely because of your lineage. Being an ethnic Jew does not make you a child of God. Nor does being of a royal or noble family make you a child of God. You might win an election because you are a member of the Kennedy orBush family, but that doesn’t impress God. It is “not of blood” that one becomes a child of God.
Nor is being born of God done by the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man. These statements are very similar, if not identical, in their meaning. One does not become a child of God because of their own ability to be holy, or to choose God while other reject him, nor from anything within yourself.
One is not born from the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man. If there is a shade of difference here it seems “not the will of man” might be referring to the head of the household. The word used in the original language is not the word for “man” in general, but the word for “husband.” And so the meaning is “you are not saved because the husband or head of the household is a believer.”
Now, here is where all the importance lies. Those who are children of God “were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, BUT OF GOD.”
The Christian, the believer, the one who has received Christ, the one who is the Child of God, is BORN OF GOD. This birth is not dependent on your own self, your actions or your will, but is wholly OF GOD. God converts the sinner, God gives the gift of faith, and to God goes all the glory so that no man may boast.
John is in perfect agreement with Paul and all of the New Testament authors in saying that salvation is of God’s grace alone. Your status before God does not depend on your status on Earth, the prominency of your family, nor is your status before God dependent on your own holiness or anything you can do or have done. Salvation is OF GOD. Just a child is born into the world without any choice in the matter, so the child of God is born of God entirely dependent on God.
Have you ever thought about this? Did you have any choice for where you were born? And when you were born? Did you say, I’d like to be born in 1982. Let’s make it April 29. And, how about, I choose the United States. Did you say that? Of course not. It is the same with your new birth in Christ. You did not chose the time or the place. God did. You had as little control over your spiritual birth as over your physical birth. We are wholly dependent on God in these things. It is no wonder that the Scriptures so often use that term “born of God,” or “born of the spirit.” They say “you must be born again.” This is true, and we are born OF God, not of ourselves.
Now, the great thing of beingborn of God is that it makes you a Child of God, and an heir to all His promises. The promise is that all things are arranged in this world for the good of those who believe in Christ. The promise is that you will have a forever home in heaven. The promise is eternal life, the resurrection of the body, and knowing God face to face. It is great to be Born of God.
I want to conclude with this: What are you trusting in?
Do you trust that God will save you because you are part of a church-going family?
Do you trust that God will save you because your grandfather was a preacher?
Do you trust that God will save you because you have a certificate of Baptism?
Do you trust that God will save you because your spouse is a Christian?
Or, is your trust in Jesus Christ?
If you have received Jesus Christ, if you believe in him, you are a Child of God, and an heir of all of his promises. You are part of the greatest family.
If you are not presently a Child of God, I exhort you and encourage you to believe upon Jesus Christ. To receive him as your savior and find the great joy of being part of the family of God, born of Him.
In all things, we give praise to our God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen.