Meditations on Jesus in John’s Gospel : 1 : Jesus, the Word
Jn 1:1,14In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God …The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.
We used to have a film-strip for children called The Green Bear, a delightful story of a bear who wanted a friend. At one point there is another creature who hires himself out to be a friend for short periods of time. The Green Bear didn’t really feel this was enough and the other animal turns to him with irritable words that became indelibly printed on the minds of our family, “Well, I’m talking to you aren’t I!” Talking wasn’t enough. It is a start, but it’s not enough; we want something more.
What is a word? It is a building block of communication; it is an expression of speech, the means we humans use to convey our thoughts to one another. The Greeks, two thousand years ago, used the word in respect of all of creation to mean the rational principle that governs all things, the Logos. In daily life it meant both the thought and the speech expressing the thought. Thus John when he was writing wrote not only to the Jews but to the wider world, for whom the main international language was Greek.
He says that in the beginning of all things – because as human beings we have difficulty imagining eternity with no beginning – there was this Word, this expression of God, this something behind everything that holds everything together, and this something, this expression of God was God, just as we might say my speech is me perhaps. But there is something different here, because words are separate sounds that disappear, and are no longer heard, except in the memory. This Word, this expression of God, remains as an entity, an ongoing expression that is part of God. In heaven, as this Gospel tells us later, there was God the Father and His expression, the Son, the Word. But again, unlike us and speech, the Father and the Word can communicate backwards and forwards between each other, there is a living, loving relationship between them that is real.
We struggle with these concepts because we’re told God is Spirit and we can’t really grasp what God and His Son, the Word are, what being Spirit that had always existed, really means. These days I think of ‘spirit’ as ‘living personal energy’, or ‘energy with personality’ if you like. So God is the Supreme Being who is living, personal energy who thinks, acts and moves.
But then the Word became flesh. How? I haven’t a clue! How can Spirit turn into flesh? I don’t know. All I know is that when God made man He breathed spirit (breath) into him (Gen 2:7), so part of us is spirit anyway. How they interact is a mystery which we struggle to explain. But the Word who is God becomes flesh. He does it to communicate with us in the fullest way possible. The writer to the Hebrews wrote: “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son” (Heb 1:1,2)
This is the staggering truth, that God has spoken to the human race, not just by words into our minds (which I think He does all the time), not just through Hebrew prophets (who were incredible in themselves as to their openness to ‘hear’ God), not just with a one-off call from heaven, but by coming and living in human form on the earth for some thirty three years.
Communication, it seems, is an essential part of personality and God is a Being with personality and so He communicates. He communicates with Himself (we talk to ourselves, think thoughts to ourselves) but that is not enough. He expresses Himself outwards by creating living creatures who are capable of communicating, and having done that He communicates with them. That’s what the Old Testament record is. And then He communicates in the fullest way possible – He comes in human form! Wow!
But one more thought before we move on in this series. Many words have different meanings. So for example, take the word ‘palm’. That word can mean a tropical tree, or one side of the hand, or the act of concealing something slight of hand. It has those three meanings. When we come to this “Word” that John speaks about, it also has many meanings and it will be those we will be examining in this series. Jesus as we will see is Creator of this world with the Father, he is also sustainer of this world, he is also redeemer of this world, so this “Word” has a multitude of meanings or functions or roles. Yes, above all else he is the Son of God, but having said that we see that he is so much more. Watch for these things as we consider them in John’s Gospel.