On Knowing God: Who is The Word?

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IN THE BEGINNING . . . are the opening words of the Gospel of John as well as the book of Genesis. While not the only similarity between these two books, it is the grand opening for both. It’s almost as if John picks up where the Genesis account of creation left off. John is going to fill in some of the blanks we have encountered along the way. He is going to tell us some things about God that we did not know. Right there our interest has been stirred because Genesis revealed a lot to us.
What have we already learned from Genesis?

    God is eternal.
    God is accepted by faith.
    God is a person.
    God is not singular.
    God is the creator of the physical universe.
    God had plans for all creation.
    God is the judge of what is good.
    God’s activities are orderly.
    God is the creator of light and life.
    God created mankind, male and female.
    God didn’t tell us when the beginning was.
    God doesn’t give up on people when they sin.

We could continue with what we learned from Genesis 1-3, but this list gives us some ideas of what God wanted us to know about him. In the Gospel of John, we will see additional elements about creation and God’s character.

What did we read about the creation of humankind in Genesis? Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air . . .” (Genesis 1:26). This was a discussion among two or three people. In the second verse we read, “. . . and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light. God saw that the light was good.” (Genesis 1:2-4).

At the very start of things we see that the God of creation is not singular but plural. In the conversation about creating man, not only is the word for God plural, but the word for “man” is also plural: “ . . . in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule . . .” As we go further into the Bible we discover that God is the God of three persons. There are indications of this throughout the Old Testament. When we look at the Gospel of John, it is made clear in a most descriptive way.

Whereas Genesis said, “In the beginning God . . .”, John writes, “In the beginning was the Word . . .” These are powerful statements. With that phrase John identifies the speaker of Genesis chapter 1. In Genesis 1, we read nine times, “And God said . . .” God spoke the word and gave the command that started and completed the planned activity of that period. But, who was this “Word”?

The Word And God
John continues with what happened in the beginning, writing, “ . . . and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.” (John 1:1, 2). John then answers the question: What was the Word doing at the beginning of creation? He continues, “Through him (the Word) all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men.” (John 1:3, 4). The Word, then, was the actor or activator of the creation plan. The Word brought to completion what God had planned.

The speaker—the actor—the Word in Genesis and in John is identified further. “The Word became flesh, and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.” (John 1:14-18). There’s a lot to unpack from these verses, so let’s take a moment to do it.

As we follow this developing revelation in John, here is what we see:

    The Word was in the beginning with God
    The Word carried out or formed the created matter or beings of each time period.
    The Word is in perfect harmony with the Father.
    The Word is of the same essence as God the Father.
    The Word became one of us, a human being.
    The Word became human in order to reveal the truth about God the Father.
    The Word brings God’s grace to humanity.
    The Word, the One and Only, is Jesus Christ.

The Word Is God
When we read about Nicodemus in John chapter 3, the One and Only is identified as the Son of God. So taking the language that we have considered, we understand that the conversation about creating mankind was among God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. Looking at both the Genesis account and John’s Gospel, we can identify the activities, if you will, that each member of the Godhead was responsible for. God the Father was the master planner overseeing creation. He completed this planning with the life-giving Spirit and the master Creator, God the Son. As God’s plan for the universe was detailed out, the Son of God was the Agent to carry out the plans for which the Spirit of God was the life-giver to all creation.

This should be of great interest to us. To understand who God is and to come to know him, it is significant for us to see God’s full Trinitarian character. Do you fully understand the Trinity? If you are like me, you don’t. How can God be one and yet exist in three persons? We don’t have a human model for that. But it’s like so much in our living that we accept by faith.

Most important is that out of this comes the Gospel, the good news of redemption for mankind. That’s the decisive news. The Trinity helps us understand the plan of redemption that was designed even before creation itself. Each member of the Godhead has a part in bridging the gap between humanity and God. Right after John introduced the Word and explained who the Word is, he takes us straight away from God the Creator to God the Redeemer.

The Word Is The Lamb
Back in Genesis 3 we read about the skins that God gave to Adam and Eve as a temporary covering for their sin. We also read the judgment passed on the Serpent, Satan. “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head and you will strike his heel.” (Genesis 3:15). The offspring or the descendant of the woman will crush the power of the Serpent, the Tempter of Genesis. Thousands of years before the coming of the Word into the world, God revealed to Adam and Eve how redemption would come about. An offspring of Eve would crush the power of Satan even though Satan would wound the offspring.

Here in the first chapter of John, we have the promised redeemer and deliverer of Genesis unveiled for us. A man sent from God, John the Baptist (the last of the Old Testament prophets), speaks out: The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” Then John gave this testimony: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. I would not have known him, except the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is he who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God.” (John 1:32-34).

Here in John’s gospel the testimony of John the Baptist resolves mankind’s sin and rejection of God recorded in Genesis. In Genesis, God told Eve and Adam that the day would come when God’s final answer to sin would be revealed. John the Baptist, a man well versed in the Old Testament Scriptures, cries out for all to hear: Here is God’s Lamb, the one spoken of from Genesis to Malachi, the offspring of a virgin, the one who would take away the sin of the world, the Lamb offered up as a sacrifice for our sin before the creation of the world (Revelation 13:8).

The word of hope given to Adam and Eve that fellowship and relationship with God would be restored was planned for at the time of creation (Matthew 25:34). When Jesus declared that the Kingdom of God is here, it was the Kingdom that had been waiting for centuries to be realized. It is God’s Kingdom that we are invited to be a part of. John the Apostle tells us more.

The Word In The World
The Word was in the beginning with God and the Word was God. The Word is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. The Word came and lived among us. While God has communicated with mankind since creation, it has been the desire of men and women to talk directly with God. What does God look like, face to face? After all, that was the experience that Adam and Eve had. The author of Hebrews lets us know that the Word, God the Son, brought that about. “In these last days, God has spoken to us through his Son.” And who is the Son? “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory, the exact representation of his being.” (Hebrews 1:2, 3). When you see the Son, you are looking at God.

During Jesus’ time, there were many who were looking for the Kingdom of God. When reading about Nicodemas, that seemed to be his desire. Read Jesus’ answer to him: You can’t enter the Kingdom of God unless you are born again. Nicodemus was interested. He may have heard about Jesus’ announcement: “The time has come. The Kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 14, 15). What good news? God’s reign is here and available. It comes to every person who accepts God’s invitation. The Kingdom arrives one heart at a time. It is a spiritual Kingdom, installed in those who seek God’s presence in their lives. And who is the King of the Kingdom? The Word!

However, what happened when the Word came into the world? “He was in the world,” John says, “and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.” (John 1:10, 11). Understand that the purpose of Jesus’ (the Word) coming into the world is so we would be able to see who God is and how God acts. As John states, he came to his own people (the Jewish race) because they of all people would understand. They had the documents of creation and revelation. They had the law and the prophets. The prophetic writings had told of the coming Messiah. They had the writings of the Psalmists that were sung regularly in worship of God. They would recognize him if anyone would. But John writes, “they received him not.”

Should it surprise us that not everyone accepted Jesus as the Creator of heaven and earth who came to reveal God and redeem mankind? How far from creation did we get to see the same response? It is apparent that Cain left the presence of God without ever seeking restoration. He did not want to turn over his life to the one who had created him. While difficult to understand, we see this even today. But John doesn’t end on that point. He goes on.

Yes, John writes, there were those who rejected the Word, but not everyone. “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, not of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” (John 1:12, 13). The Kingdom of God is being formed in those who accept the truth about God and about themselves.

That leads us back to our reading of Jesus’ nighttime talk with Nicodemus. When we were born into the world, a human transaction was involved. We were born because of our parents. Being born of God—the second birth, born again—is God’s activity. So, John tells us, some did not accept Jesus as the Creator/Redeemer. But the many who did became children of God and came into the Kingdom of God.

At the end of this age, all those who were born the second time (born again) will be gathered under one banner, that of the King of kings and Lord of lords. (I Timothy 6:13-16; Revelation 19:11-16). That is describing the Kingdom of God in full attire. The spiritual Kingdom will be in full display, as God’s physical reign will be installed on earth. The Kingdom now will become the Kingdom, then.

The Life-Giving Spirit
Back in Genesis 1:2, we read, “. . . and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” What was God’s Spirit doing? We get more information in the second chapter where the 6th time period is detailed out. We read, “. . . and there was no man to work the ground, but streams came up from the earth and watered the whole surface of the ground—the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” (Genesis 2:5-7). God (God the Son) carried out the plan of God the Father. The man’s body was formed, but lifeless. Then God (God the Spirit) brought life to the body with the breath of life.

Does that sound strange to you? I hope not. If you have ever taken a class in CPR (bringing a dead person back to life) it is always an advantage to have two people working on the unconscious person. One person exercises the body and the second breathes air into the lungs. However, we have a clearer picture of the workings within the Trinity as we return to the conversation between Nicodemus and Jesus.

You will recall that Nicodemus had trouble with the idea of being “born again.” Why would a practicing Jew need any change to enter God’s Kingdom? Jesus told him, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ ” (John 3:5-7). At creation, the Spirit of God is the member of the Trinity who is the “breath” or life giver. The Son worked out the architecture and design. Let’s carry that forward from the work of creation into the work of redemption.

The Trinity And Salvation
In that most quoted verse of the Bible, Jesus told Nicodemus that “God (the Father) so loved the world that he sent his one and only Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16).

Jesus had already told Nicodemus who “delivered” that life to individuals: “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.” “So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:5, 8). Later, talking with his disciples, Jesus said, “For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me.” (John 6:38). Approaching the time of the crucifixion, Jesus prayed to his Father, “Not my will but yours be done.” We see that the work of salvation that Jesus came to complete is brought to mankind through the combined activity of the God of three persons.

We see the Son doing the will of his Father carrying out the plan that had been in place before the creation of mankind. He arrived at the place of crucifixion, beaten and bleeding, there to give his life as a ransom or substitute for mankind. The Spirit is the one who imparts or implants God’s life into the being of the person who, as John said, receives the Creator as their Redeemer. This is the plan worked out by God the Father in conversation with the Son and the Spirit.

This is something we can picture in our minds. As an analogy of the work of creation and salvation, think about the manufacture of a car. There is a person (or group) who is an engineer who designs the vehicle. That person develops the concept and designs the parts. Another person (or group) creates the parts from the drawings and puts them together. That’s all fine, but there is no life—no power in this car. So someone (or group) comes along with the fuel whether it is gasoline, hydrogen or whatever, to make the automobile function. That is a short story of the creation of a car. If any component is missing, the car won’t work. There are other examples that I’m sure you can think of, too.

The point is that in both creation and salvation, the God of three persons participated in bringing us into life. The account of creation prepares us for what is to follow in redemption. In turn, the account of redemption helps us understand God’s actions in creation. There is no way that either creation or salvation could be worked out without God. Could we (or Adam) generate life by ourselves? Likewise, neither can anyone give himself or herself eternal life.

The Apostle Paul takes this truth beyond the process of creation and salvation. God’s promises to us are as certain and definite as the Trinity itself. Paul wants to assure us that the God who brought us into life and gave eternal life to those who will follow him—he will see us through to the end. To the Christians at Corinth he wrote, “Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.” (II Corinthians 1:21, 22). God starts what he completes. What God has promised, he will follow through with. Paul says, you can put your “Amen” to that as well.

The Last Word From The Word
And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. That is the power of the word when the Word speaks. We have no doubt, do we, that the blazing sun will rise each morning and brighten our day? Every twelve hours or so we see moonlight and starlight replaced by sunlight. Nightlight fades into shadows with the arrival of daylight. Every day we see the reenactment of the creation drama rolled out before us. The birth of a child reminds us that life is a gift that is given us by someone else. We don’t produce it ourselves. All around us are evidences that humanity is not alone in the universe. There is someone who is watching over it all. We sense that someone has been taking care of things since the beginning of time.

Perhaps you haven’t thought of it, but what keeps atoms from flying apart and turning the earth into a heap of nuclear debris? We know that by “splitting” certain atoms we create a nuclear bomb. The sun and the stars we see are giant nuclear reactors that carry on for millions of years. What keeps our earth together and the universe from flying apart?

The Apostle Paul gives us some help: The Word! “He (God the Son) is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 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.” Yes, Paul writes, the Son whom we know came to reveal who God is. He is the Creator. “He is before all things and in him all things hold together.” (Colossians 1:15-18). The Word is the “holder together” of the universe. He created it and makes sure it keeps running.

What reassuring news to know that the Son of God, the Creator who put it all together, is also the one who holds it together. No “learning curve” had to take place because someone else took it over. That’s great! Now, what about the work of redemption? What is happening in that area?

When the Son of God completed the work of redemption on the cross, he cried out, “It is finished!” (John 19:30). What was finished? The work that the Father had assigned him had been completed. It was done! Salvation was available to all humankind because he had finished the work. Was that the last word from the Word? No, there is a further word.

In the last book of the New Testament, written by the Apostle John, we have an incredible picture. The Word wants us to know that redemption is still available. It didn’t stop with the crucifixion. Just as the Creator is active in holding the universe in order, so the Redeemer is actively pursuing humankind. As the Psalmist wrote, “goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.” God does not let up.

The Word—the Son of God—declares, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.” (Revelation 3:20). Maybe you have seen a painting of that scene, the Redeemer knocking on a door. That, my friend, is the last word from the Word. It is the ongoing word of invitation for you to know him and talk with him. The opportunity is there for you like it was to Adam, to David, to Nicodemus and to every person since their times.

The Son of God wants to engage you in conversation and relationship. He invites you to have fellowship with him. The Word is still speaking today. The door to his heavenly home is open. He is asking you to open the door of your heart so that conversation can begin. It’s up to you.