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From the Series: Meet Jesus (Part 1)
January 3, 2016

No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known. (John 1:18)

Our new series is called Meet Jesus.  That title is a good description of what we seek for ourselves and for others as we launch out into this New Year.  We want, whenever we gather together for worship, that we will meet with Jesus Christ.  We do not gather to preserve a dying tradition, we are here to worship a living Savior!

The most important question when you leave church today is not, “Did you learn anything new?”  It is not, “Did you like the music?”  Or “Did you connect with some friends?”  But “Did you meet with Jesus?  Did you draw near to him and did he draw near to you?  Did he bring light to your mind and strengthen your faith?  Did he strengthen your soul?”  Every time we gather for worship, we open the Word of Christ in order to meet with the Christ of the Word.

To meet Jesus is what we want for ourselves.  It is also what we want for others.  During the Thrive campaign, we learned that one in every four people in America has no experience whatsoever of church.  We want to invite many of them to come and join us here at The Orchard and what we offer is the opportunity to meet Jesus, to open the Bible and discover who he is, what he has done, and what he is able to do for all who believe in him.

John’s Gospel is a great place to meet with Jesus.  If you turn to the end of John’s Gospel, you will see that he states there quite clearly why this book was written: “These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31).

We want this church to be a place where people from every background come to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may find life in his name.  If you are a visitor today, I want you to know that we are glad you are here.  Whether you have a Christian faith, some other faith, or no faith at all, we are glad that you would join us.  I hope that you will want to be here each week as we open the Bible in order to meet Jesus.

How Can I Know God?

I want us to focus today on verse 18, where John speaks to what must surely be the first issue in any journey to faith: How can I know God?  “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known” (John 1:18).  There are two statements here, so let’s take them one at a time.

1. No one has ever seen God

These words have huge importance for us today.  Earlier generations in this country grew up in a culture that was so dominated by Christianity that there was really only one decision: Do you believe or do you not believe?

But today, a student going to university arrives on campus and finds people who profess many different religious beliefs.  There are Muslims, Jews, Christians, Hindus, and Sikhs.  There may be a new age group or two, and some people who are into the occult, and all of them are talking about God!  How in the world is a thinking person to choose between them?

John says, “Remember, no one has ever seen God.”  These words could hardly be clearer, but they raise some obvious questions: What about the Old Testament?  Didn’t Adam and Eve walk with God in the Garden of Eden?  What about Moses speaking with God “face-to-face”?  And didn’t Isaiah say, “In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord…” (Isa. 6:1)?

There are many occasions in the Old Testament when God appeared in a human, visible form.  We call these theophanies, and they are wonderful examples of God making himself known.  But God is Spirit.  He is invisible to us.  He “dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see” (1 Tim. 6:16)

When Isaiah says, “I saw the Lord,” what he actually saw was the hem of his robe, which was so massive that it filled the whole temple!  And because the hem of the Lord’s robe filled the whole temple, that is all that he saw!

Moses asked to see God in all his glory, but God said to him, “You cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live” (Ex. 33:20).  So God said to Moses, “I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by.  Then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen” (Ex. 33:22-23).  So what Moses actually saw was the after-burn of the glory of God.

No one has ever seen God.  Here is what this means: Not Moses, not Mohammad, not the Dalai Lama, nor any guru or any religious teacher, nor anyone laying claim to visions or experiences of another world, no prophet, no pastor, no person you can ever meet, read, hear, or see in this world has ever seen God.

So don’t be gullible.  Exercise your critical faculties.  Don’t believe everything you hear!  Put all religious claims through this filter: No one has ever seen God!

2. The only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known

John is referring, of course, to Jesus Christ, who is the subject of his Gospel and indeed of the whole Bible.  How can Jesus make God known?  How can he do what no religion has ever done and what no other person—past, present, or future—can ever do?

Verse 18 is the conclusion of the entire introduction to John’s Gospel, and I want you to see that these verses give us a seven-fold description of the unique glory of Jesus Christ: He is the eternal, personal, divine, creating, life giving, incarnate Son of God.

 1. Eternal

In the beginning was the Word… (John 1:1)

It does not say, “In the beginning was God and no one has ever seen him or made him known.”  It says, “in the beginning was the Word.”  What this means is that God speaks.

It has often been said that all religions are like blind men trying to describe an elephant.  One blind man gets hold of its tail, and says the elephant is like a long thin rope.  Another blind man gets hold of its trunk and says, “No, the elephant is like a long flexible tube.”  A third blind man stands next to the elephant and says, “I don’t know what you guys are talking about.  You must be blind!  The elephant is like a huge wall made of leather.”

Those who want to critique faith tell a story like this and say, “No one has ever seen God.  We are like blind men trying to describe an elephant.”  A good response to that story is: What if the elephant was able to speak?  What if the elephant could say, “Let me tell you who I am.  I am a very complex animal with a trunk a body and a tail.  Listen to me, you blind men, and I will tell you who I am and then you will be able to make sense of your experience!”

In the beginning was the Word.  God speaks and he has made himself known, otherwise we would never be able to know him.

2. Personal

The Word was with God… (John 1:1)

The Word is not simply an aspect of God, or a characteristic of God, like his mercy or his love.  There is distinct personality here.  That’s why John goes on to say, “All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made” (John 1:3).  We are bumping up against the most marvelous, complex doctrine of the Trinity here.

3. Divine

The Word was God. (John 1:1)

This Word is a divine person.  He is not part of the creation, like the angels and ourselves.  The Word was with God and the Word was God (John 1:1)—distinct personality and divinity.  You find the same thing in verse 18: He is the only God and he is at the Father’s side.

4. Creating

All things were made through him… (John 1:3)

The creation gives us some knowledge of God (Rom. 1:20).  Why is that?  The creation is God’s handiwork.  It was made by him and it contains an impression of the One who made it.

5. Life-giving

In him was life… (John 1:4)

  1. I. Packer says, “Here is the Bible’s answer to the problem of the origin and continuance of life, in all its forms: life is given and maintained by the Word.” [1] What makes me alive? The question should be: Who makes me alive? “In him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).

6. Incarnate

The Word became flesh and dwelt among us… (John 1:14)

The baby in the manger that we celebrate at Christmas was the eternal word of God.  He was called “Immanuel,” God with us.

 

7. Son of God

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. (John 1:14)

Why do Christians worship Jesus?  Because he was at the Father’s side from the beginning.  He is the one and only Son.  He has come down from God.  He is God with us, and he has made the Father known.  He is the eternal, personal, divine, creating, life giving, incarnate Son of God.

Three Answers to the Question:
How Can I Know God?

1. “We cannot know God.”

This is the position of many people today.  If you look at any of the recent religious surveys, it is clear that don’t knows are on the rise, and that may well be the position of some of us here.  You don’t feel able to commit yourself to a firm confession of faith, but on the other hand you would not want to say that you are an atheist, so you say, “I don’t know.”

Do you see how what John says here challenges that position, but at the same time, gives to you the most wonderful invitation?  You say you can’t know God, but the Son of God has come into the world to make him known.

Some of us will speak with a friend or colleague or neighbor who is a don’t know this week.  They ask what you did over the weekend, and you mention that you were in church.  They say, “That’s great if you find it helpful, but I’m an agnostic when it comes to these things.”

You could say to them, “Well, I can understand why you would think that.  It says in the Bible ‘No one has ever seen God!’  So how could any of us know?  But have you ever considered the second half of this verse?  It says that ‘God the one and only has made him known!’”

It would be a great mistake for anyone to leave church today and to say, “Well, that was all very interesting, but I don’t know,” and then go get something to eat and watch a game!  God the one and only who is at the Father’s side has made him known!

John is telling you that if you get to know Jesus Christ, you have truly come to know the living God, who no one has ever seen.  John’s Gospel was written so that you may know that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name (John 20:31).

Surely the right response is to say, “I need to learn from Jesus through this fourth Gospel, so that he can teach me what I don’t know.  Otherwise, I could not possibly know God.”

2. “We all know God.”

This answer is surprisingly (and disturbingly) common among Evangelicals.  Evangelical Christians have long talked about having a quiet time.  A quiet time is an excellent thing, and I hope you have made a commitment to have a regular quiet time this year.  But my question is, “What are you going to do in that time?”

In the past, what Evangelicals meant when they talked about having a quiet time was a regular time of Bible reading and prayer.  Christians, rightly, through the centuries, believed that God speaks to us through the Bible, and that we speak to him through prayer.  But as large parts of the church have drifted away from the Scriptures, many people have latched onto the idea that we can listen to God simply by being quiet.

It has become common among Christians to think that listening to God means being quiet and listening to our own hearts.  But here’s the problem with that: God says, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways” (Isa. 55:8).

If you believe that you listen to God by listening to your own heart, then what have you done?  You have put your own heart in the place of God.  If you make an idol of your heart, that will inevitably lead to a life of following the impulses of your own heart.  And who knows where that will lead you?

John’s Gospel does not say, “In the beginning were our hearts, and our hearts were with God, and our hearts were God.”  It says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… The Word became flesh, and he has made the Father known.”

That is why the Bible says that the “entrance” of God’s Word gives light (Psa. 119:130, KJV).  We do not have entrance to God through any other way, except the Word of God.  You won’t get to know God by reflecting on your own thoughts and feelings on the sofa with some Christian music on in the background.  You listen to God with an open Bible!

If you want to keep a journal of your own thoughts and feelings, by all means do so.  But be clear about what it is—a journal of your own thoughts and feelings!  Write this on the first page so you don’t forget it: “This is a journal of my own thoughts and feelings.  These will change over time.  They are of no eternal significance!”

Then if you are keen on journaling, go buy a second journal, and use it to write down what God is teaching you from the Bible.  Write down on the front page of that one, “This is what I am learning from the Word of God.  God’s Word is truth.  It abides forever.  Those who trust in him will never be put to shame.”

3. “Jesus Christ knows God.”

No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known. (John 1:18)

1. No one stands beside the Lord Jesus Christ

About who else could it ever be said that he or she is eternal, personal, divine, creating,

life giving, incarnate Son of God?  No one else stands beside him.

Who else could ever say to us, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6)?  Rest assured of this: You will not find a higher way than you find in Jesus Christ.  You will not find more reliable truth than you find in Christ.  You will not find a better life than you find in him.

2. No one else will ever go beyond Jesus Christ

We live in the world of upgrades, where every product eventually become obsolete as we move on to the next model.  No one ever upgrades on Jesus Christ!  No one has ever gone beyond Jesus Christ and no one ever will—in this world or even in the world to come.

A man by the name of H. R. Mackintosh wrote this about Jesus, “Never in any experience of God here or hereafter will you or I ever find anything that is not already there for us in Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh.” [2]

At the end of the Bible, John, who wrote this Gospel, was given a glimpse into heaven, a vision of the future.  He saw the people of God gathered with great joy in the presence of the Lord with every tear wiped from their eyes, and he said, “The Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them into springs of living water” (Rev. 7:17).

When parents take children to a theme park, the natural instinct of the children when they arrive is to run off and explore the rides—the swings, the slides, or whatever else may be there.  Heaven will not be like that.

When God’s people are in his presence, it is not that they are welcomed by Jesus Christ and then go running off to explore the celestial playground.  Jesus Christ is the joy of his people in heaven.  He is the center of it all.  They never move beyond him.  Everything that God’s people enjoy forever comes from him and no joy is theirs without him.  There is no greater joy than to meet and to know Jesus.

 

[1] J. I. Packer, Knowing God, p. 49, InterVarsity Press, 1993.

[2] Cited in Ronald Wallace, The Gospel of John, p. 7, Scottish Academic Press, 1991.

 

© Colin S. Smith

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