To see and know God: The revelation of Jesus

Chances are you’ve heard of the theory “six degrees of separation,” the idea that every human being in the world is connected to one another through six layers or “degrees” of friends.  You may be all the more familiar with the party game “six degrees of Kevin Bacon,” where you name an actor and connect him back to Kevin Bacon in some way.  In the real world, it’s really quite simple: maybe you know a guy who knows a guy who knows a lady who’s friends with Tom Hanks.  So you’re only four degrees removed from a major celebrity.  The world is smaller than we realize; social media has actually taught us that.  A recent study discovered that the number of “degrees” of separation between Twitter users is only about 3.43.  So, by Twitter standards, if you log into your account, you are only about 3-4 friends away from knowing literally every person on the planet.

You and I share a natural affinity for connectedness, and this desire extends as well into the spiritual realm.  The impulse to connect with God or a higher power is as alive today as it ever has been—and in some ways this desire is all the more prominent with our contemporary acceptance of human “spirituality.”

What if we had the capacity to know God directly?  What if the separation between us and him was by only a single degree—that we could come into the presence of God Himself and know Him and be known by Him?

Yesterday we highlighted the way that God reveals Himself more specifically through Scripture, through His Word.  Today we’ll look at the way that God reveals Himself most fully in the person of Jesus.

THE ARRIVAL OF JESUS

When the apostle John composed his biography of Jesus, he took special care to remind us that Jesus was—nay, is—God in the flesh (cf. John 20:31).  He begins by telling us that the Word of God—the same Word that created the universe from nothing, the same Word contained in the pages of the Bible—now becomes flesh in the person of Christ:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God….14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth…. 18 No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.” (John 1:1, 14, 18)

“No one has ever seen God,” John reminds us, but Jesus “has made Him known.”  If you’re reading that in the original Greek, you’ll notice that the English phrase “has made Him known” comes from the single Greek word exegesato.  The word referred to scholars and ancient scribes laboring over ancient texts, seeking to draw out the meaning of Scripture. Even today the science and art of Bible interpretation is called “exegesis,” which comes directly from this Greek term. John is telling us that if we want to know God in the truest, most direct way, we have to look no further than Jesus Christ.  It’s why Paul would later declare Jesus to be “the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15); in Jesus God makes Himself known in a direct, personal way.

Have you ever wondered: If God is real, why doesn’t He just show Himself?  The answer is that God did just that: in Jesus God took on flesh that we might see and know Him.

THE BODY OF CHRIST

But how is Jesus made known today?  Christianity has long held that the Church is now the “body of Christ.”  Paul writes:

4 There is one body and one Spirit…[and] speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. (Ephesians 4:4, 15-16)

The Church is God’s visible demonstration of His presence on earth.

Does God reveal Himself through the Church?  In a sense, yes—though admittedly not with the same authority as in His Word.  There is value in learning from the “great cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1) that have gone before us in the faith.  And there is also value in learning from one another, from being together and allowing our lives to intertwine as we grow in faith.

Social scientists have told us what we perhaps always knew: that human communities influence belief in profound ways.  This is perhaps why Paul told the young pastor Timothy that the Church is a “pillar and buttress of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15).  The Church literally supports the Truth.  It’s true that human communities aren’t always right, but when we embrace the common truths of the gospel our social networks (that is, our congregations, our community groups, our families) can serve to reinforce and augment our faith in Christ.

And ultimately the Church is God’s visible witness to the world.  Harvard scientist Robert D. Putnam published a massive study in recent years in which he admits that yes; evangelical communities really do demonstrate charity and Christian love more than other communities:

“By many different measures religious observant Americans are better neighbors and better citizens than secular Americans—they are more generous with their time and money, especially in helping the need, and they are more active in community life.”[1]

The Church can testify to the reality of God by being a beacon of goodness and hope to the world.

LOOKING FORWARD

By now we’ve sought to emphasize that not only is God real, but the God of the Bible is real.  It’s undeniable that every major religion has competing things to say about God.  But if we pause and consider that God has revealed Himself through His Spirit, through His creation, through His Word, and through His Son, then we can discover that yes, Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life; He is our only road to the Father (John 14:6).

The road before us is one in which we seek to discover just what this God is truly like.  Our prayer is that as we journey together, we might all learn what it is like to be connected to God, not merely because of how we were raised or what we might have read in a book, but because of what God has revealed about Himself.  “Let it be the true You that I worship,” C.S. Lewis once wrote, “and the true I that worships You.”

Amen.

[1] Robert D. Putnam and David E. Campbell, American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us. (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2010), 461.

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Light in the Darkness – John 1

What good is darkness? Think about it. What purpose does it serve?

I will say that I like darkness for sleeping and am in some way annoyed by light, even dim lights. There is a nightlight in the hallway of our home, as there is also in the master bathroom. It amazes me just how much light comes from these dim bulbs, and I am forever closing those doors to keep the light out. My clock on the nightstand displays the time in red numbers, and I hate how bright it is. I often turn it at an angle so that it does not catch my attention.

Have you ever worked with photographic development in a darkroom?  You have to go to extreme measures to be sure that light does not break through cracks in the doorframe, etc. There is a warning light outside the door to be sure nobody breaks in at the wrong moment, because the light will ruin everything you are working on.

I’ve shared this illustration before — from my (now elderly) mother-in-law who was a little girl during World War 2, and she vividly recalls being told in blackout drills how critical it was to keep every light off — that even a lit cigarette was visible at night from the air.

In the vein of the Geico commercials, if they personified one about light, it would read, “If you’re light, you penetrate darkness; it’s what you do!”

And yes, that is true. Darkness is passive; light is active. Light breaks into and dispels darkness. Long before dawn fully breaks, you can see the light making its inroads, beating back the night sky.

Light dates back to Day 1.  God separated the darkness and the light, as in Genesis 1:3-4 …

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness.

The theme of light breaking the darkness and serving as the beacon and focal point of God’s presence is seen over and over in Scripture. After one of the curses on the Egyptians being that of the descent of darkness, the children of Israel followed a pillar of fire that represented God’s presence and guidance in in the wilderness. God was said to be the light of salvation for his covenant people (Psalm 27).

The Old Testament prophet Isaiah foretold the coming of a light into the world, and how that light would particularly come and shine to the people who lived in Galilee, people who were on the fringes historically of what was “happening” in the world and who were away from the center of worship. Isaiah said …

Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan—The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.

And so the gospel writer John picks up on these themes to speak of the coming of Jesus into the world. It was indeed at a time of history of great darkness and despair … of centuries of unfulfilled hopes and dreams and ancient promises.

1:1 — 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 all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

6 There was a man sent from God whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. 8 He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.

9 The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

What are the descriptors of the history of mankind? Are they not words like sin, poverty, injustice, war, disease, death?  And though advances in science, knowledge and technology bring measures of benefit for mankind, they also bring new ways for man to more effectively accomplish all of the aforementioned evils.

Man’s light does not dispel man’s darkness due to the curse of sin.

But there is a divine light that penetrates the darkness. And it is not just the overflow of God’s brightness spilling all over the place. Rather, it is the specific coming of that light in the form of humanity–in the person of Christ. And as the text says in John 1, this is the true light that gives light to everyone.

The incarnation is indeed the beginning of the pivotal event(s) of history. And though we have no command in Scripture to celebrate or particularly remember this, the significance is worthy of the focus. And the central feature of this penetrating light is to bring us hope and joy. Even unspeakable joy.