THE RIGHT TO BECOME

“To all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God”.

Jn 1:12 NIV

The secret of being a person is not just what or who you are. It is also about what you can become. Human nature is not static. People can grow, develop, mature, transform and blossom.

Think of the apostle Paul. He began as a Jewish pharisee and developed a hatred for the Christian church. He went around looking for Christians to persecute. Then he met the risen Jesus. It changed him. He became a new person. He finished as a saint of the Christian church, a disciple of Jesus, and an apostle for the truth, encouraging people to love. And Peter, from being a rough fisherman became an apostle of the church as well – Jesus empowered him.

Belief can empower you. Bad beliefs can sour you, bring you down, make you a scoundrel. Right beliefs can bring truth into your mind, love into your heart, action into your lifestyle, leadership into your service for other people and growth into your whole being. “It is told that once when Michelangelo began to carve a huge and shapeless block of marble, he said that his aim was to release the angel imprisoned in the stone. Out of the shapeless mass he wrought the angel that his eye saw there” (W. Barclay, The Letter to the Romans, p220). Faith in Christ can release the potential in you to become a child of God. The Holy Spirit working in you can make you someone you could never become in your own limited powers. Try to discover what God wants to make of you and resolve to become that – to his honour and glory.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, bring your divine intentions to fruition in me.

NOT ALL ARE THE SAME

“Some however, did receive him and believed in him; so he gave them the right to become God’s children”.

Jn 1:12 GNB

Not all people are the same. We come with different physical features, different mental capacities, different likes and dislikes. And varying ideas, hopes and dreams. Not all of us share the same ideologies, prejudices, and fears. Nevertheless, we do have them!

And not all the people in Israel responded in the identical way to Jesus and his message. Some were hoping for God to manifest himself in some dramatic way, to send his Messiah, to intervene in the political situation, or to show his glory in a new revelation of himself. Some were ready for Jesus. Some sensed that the portrayal of God that was standard in Israel was off-key. They were waiting for God to open the window on himself and show them what he was really like – and wished he would. When he did, coming in the Christ of Bethlehem, they warmed to him, sought to hear his teaching, witness his miracles, and believe that here was the Christ, the Son of the living God and the final truth about God.

People still vary in how they respond to Jesus. Some reject him totally. Some just jeer at him. Others sneer. Some think that a scientific world has no room for anything to do with God, and that Jesus is just a fairy story. They claim that they “’can get on all right on their own and don’t need all this God stuff”. And some say “Yes, Lord God, Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, you are the light I need in my darkness, the hope in my despair, the sense in my meaninglessness”.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, I believe. Help thou my unbelief.

HIS OWN COUTNRY

“He came to his own country, but his own people did not receive him”.

Jn 1:11 GNB

It is one of the tragedies of history that the people called “God’s people” turned their backs on God’s Son when God sent him to them. Those special people were referred to as “God’s treasured possession” in Exodus 19:5 (NIV) and elsewhere.

“When Jesus came he came to a land which was peculiarly God’s land and a people who were peculiarly God’s people. He ought to have been coming to a nation that would welcome him with open arms; the door should have been wide open for him; he should have been welcomed like a wayfarer coming home; or, even more, like a king coming to his own – and he was rejected. He was welcomed with rejection and not with adoration.

Here there is the tragedy of a people being prepared for a task, and then refusing that task. It may be that in this life parents plan and save and sacrifice to give a son or a daughter a chance in life, to prepare that son or daughter for some special task or opportunity – and then when the chance comes, the one for whom so much sacrifice was made refuses to grasp the opportunity or fails miserably when confronted with the challenge. Therein is trag- edy. And that is what happened to God” (W. Barclay, The Gospel of John, p39).

As we celebrate Christmas with joy and with gratitude to God, let us never forget the tragedy of Christ’s coming – and the sadness that those who should and could have given him “a right royal welcome” didn’t. Christian disciples should never stop praying for the people who passed Jesus by – and whom most still do.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, thank you for the priceless gift of your only Son.

THE UNRECOGNIZED WORD

“The Word was in the world, and though God made the world through him, yet the world did not receive him”.

Jn 1:10 GNB

It is difficult for us, coming two thousand years after Christ, to imagine a time or a world, into which he had not yet come. John the apostle, thinking deeply about it all some decades after Christ, understood the world before Christ. The Word was part of it – the thinking of God, his self-expression and self-revelation. The Word was involved in the creation of the world. Some people “sensed” God. They saw him in the nature round about them, the sun, moon and stars that reflected his presence. So did the order by which the earth functioned – the revolving of the seasons, the rain that watered the earth, and the provision of food. So some people dimly groped after God, but the Word was not open, full and clearly the God-that-became-flesh that was still to happen in the incarnation of Jesus Christ, God’s only Son. But the world did not know his saving grace. Nor did they know their need of him. People, by thinking and observing, were able to see something of God’s working. They knew the world was his. They could see that, in his sovereignty, God had power in the ordering of some of the historical movements that took place.

But it needed more for them to know the sufficiency of his grace, the manifestation of his kingdom and his conflict with and conquest over, the principalities and powers of evil. Only God’s full self- revelation when the Word took flesh would reveal him in his fullness. The dawn was about to break and a new world was about to be born.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, help me to see you, to know you and to serve you.

THE REAL LIGHT

“This (Jesus) was the real light – the light that comes into the world and shines on everyone”.

Jn 1:9 GNB

“Before Jesus came there were other lights that people followed. Some were flickers of the truth; some were faint glimpses of reality; some were will o’ the wisps which people followed. It is still the case. There are still partial lights; and there are still false lights; and people still follow them. Jesus is the only genuine light, the real light to guide people on their way. The coming of Jesus was like a blaze of light. It was like the coming of the dawn. A traveller tells how once in Italy he was standing on a hill overlooking the Bay of Naples. It was so pitch dark that nothing could be seen; then all of a sudden there came a flash of lightning and everything, in every detail, was suddenly lit up and illumined. When Jesus came into this world he came like a light in the dark.

His coming dissipated the shadows of doubt. Until he came people could only guess about God. ‘It is difficult to find out about God’ said one of the Greek thinkers ‘and when you have found out about him it is impossible to tell anyone else about him’. His coming also dissipated the shadows of despair. Seneca said ‘People are conscious of their helplessness in necessary things’. They were longing for a hand let down to lift them up. His coming also dissipated the darkness of death. Ancient people feared death. Many still do. But by his life and resurrection Jesus has opened a new hope for life beyond this one” (W. Barclay, The Gospel of John, p33-4).

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, be a true light for me all my days.

THE NEED TO HEAR THE MESSAGE

“John came to tell people about the light,
so that all should hear the message and believe”.

Jn 1:6, 7 GNB

The whole Bible centres around this main theme – that God has a message to convey to people and that it is crucial that they should hear the message. So even the story of creation in Genesis is punctuated with this repeated phrase “God said”. And each action in the creation story says, “God said ‘Let there be…’”. God speaking and people hearing goes on and on. The coming of Jesus at Bethlehem was itself God’s great message and the apostle John rightly saw that the forerunner to Jesus, John the Baptist, had come to direct people’s attention to Jesus, the light of the world. People in considerable numbers went down from Jerusalem to the River Jordan to hear John, strange man that he was. But he wasn’t the message God was wanting the people to hear. Jesus was.

But the crucial thing wasn’t only hearing the message. The vital thing was believing it. John’s Gospel is all about believing. Belief is one of his key words – as light is another. All people believe something. It is important that they believe the right things, and Jesus was God’s once-and-for-all vital message. Two thousand years after his life and death not all people on the planet have yet heard and believed. So the task John the Baptist started still has to go on.

And Christian disciples today have to pass that message on and spread the word. It cannot just be left to the professionals. There are many superior methods of communication today, some of them very sophisticated ones. They must be used, and used to the full, to get this message across.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, speed the message of Jesus throughout the world.

HIS NAME WAS JOHN

“There was a man sent from God whose name was John”.

Jn 1:6 NIV

“At the very heart of this tremendous theological statement about Creation in John’s Gospel, one suddenly stumbles across an oddly human touch – reference to a man’s name, John. It seems quite out of place. Every other link in this majestic argument is a phrase throbbing with unearthly power, ‘In the beginning was the Word’, ‘The Word was with God’, ‘All things were made by him’, ‘In him was life and the life was the light of men’, and then – ‘a man sent from God whose name was John’. Obviously, if there was a point at which the whole operation might break down, it is this one. For ‘John’ is not a cipher for invincible power; it identifies a weak, fallible human being. John is vulnerable and dependent” (C. Morris, Mankind My Church, p 102).

And the messages we get from God have all come through some weak, struggling human being. He might have been a prince of the pulpit, but he will have battled to discipline his time, competed with other colleagues who were jealous of his stature and prestige and probably wrestled with the temptation to be led astray by someone other than his wife. And this is always the hard -core truth about that human agency known as the church. It is composed of frail human beings, whatever title may be applied to this office or that, however euphoric its worship might at times become, or however dignified its solemn assemblies might become. It might be caught up in highly intellectual arguments or come out with profound formulations of its beliefs – still “his angels here are human not the shining hosts above”.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, enrich and empower all your human servants.

A MAN SENT FROM GOD

“There was a man sent from God”.

Jn 1:6 NIV

The whole saga of the inter-relationship between human beings and God is about men and women coming from God with a message that was not their own. It started with Abraham. It went on through Moses, Elijah, Amos, Isaiah, Paul and Timothy – and many other lesser mortals. The amazing fact is that God deigns to entrust his vital truth to mere human beings! They are all mortal. They are all fallible. They all have weaknesses, make mistakes and sometimes “let the side down”. It means God is prepared to take the risk of letting people mess it up. Some of them were probably bad-tempered, had hang-ups, unpleasant habits, suffered from prejudices or warped attitudes – yet God took them, used them and brought some measure of glory to himself through their agency.

Yet they are all known and remembered for the message God gave them! God’s message – his truth – can only be communicated in this way. He limits himself to human flesh, with all its frailties, peculiarities and idiosyncrasies. What enables God to take this risk is a miracle – the miracle of grace. And through it he empowers poor human wretches and makes giants of them.

God still does it. He still believes in human nature sufficiently to claim and call people to be his servants – equips them, trains them, changes them, charges them, and sends them. This is their strength and charter – that God sends them and they go in his name, stumbling, fumbling, (and sometimes grumbling!) struggling and striving to put God’s message before the minds of questing people as they try to find their way from the cradle to the grave.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, I marvel at the miracle as you call and send people.

DON’T PUT THAT LIGHT OUT

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has never put it out”.

Jn 1:5 GNB

During World War II the British government had to put all manner of security arrangements into place in order to guard against giving away strategic information about locations to enemy planes intent on bombing the population. One measure was an order of Air Raid Wardens (A.R.P’s) of older men too old for military service who used to walk around in the dark in towns and cities. When some householder mistakenly shone a light, a male voice would call out in the dark, “Put that light out!” Darkness was essential.

In John’s theology there was a perpetual opposition between light and darkness. All forms of evil were darkness. In being born as a man and setting out to defeat the many forms of darkness Jesus set the light of God against the surrounding darkness. Reflecting on it all after several decades John could assert, “The darkness never overcame the light”. It was a statement of faith and hope. By the time John wrote there had already been several persecutions in which the Roman authorities had sought to exterminate the Christian faith by killing the apostles and other church leaders. But the faith emerged after them all renewed and invigorated, often coming back stronger than ever and spreading more tenaciously than ever. The darkness of the persecutions had not extinguished the light of the gospel.

It is a statement of hope in these dark times. With the Christian faith on the back foot in some parts of the world, all believers need to be reminded that the light of the gospel still shines on despite the opposition it faces. Because God is God it will go on shining!

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, keep shining in our present darkness.

LIGHT IN DARKNESS

“The light shines in the darkness”.

Jn 1:5 NIV

If you really want to see light shine, find some real darkness. Spend a night or two in Olifants Camp in South Africa’s Kruger National Park, which is far away from anywhere, and whilst you barbecue (or “braai”) your evening meal just look up. The light you see will take your breath away. You will see billions of tiny stars, some of them bigger ones, the milky way and much more. You will keep turning your head back again and again, wondering if it is real. You are kilometres from any town or artificial light and the natural lights gleam in the total darkness. One imagines there were few artificial lights in the apostle John’s time. And thus they would have been much more sensitive to the contrast between light and darkness. And in much of what he wrote of Christ’s sayings he recorded the conflict between light and darkness.

Christ’s whole mission was a penetration of darkness by the light. Evil, sin, disease, violence, lies, unbelief and hatred – these were all manifestations of the darkness which held the world in its grip. But Jesus was the light of God and he was light from God that came into the world to shine the light and love of God into the darkness. And wherever he went, whatever he did, whatever he said – it threw light all around. Little wonder that he could declare, “While I am in the world, I am the light of the world” (Jn 9:5 NIV).

There is still darkness, spiritual, moral, and religious in God’s world today. But wherever the disciples of Jesus point to him there the light shines in the darkness. It is a challenge to believers in their everyday lives.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, enable me to shine your light in this dark world.